the revised diary of a Walmart greeter

Where do I begin?

How about this: Hi, I’m Larry and this is my last blog entry. It’s me telling the world that I really tried to go straight. That I really wanted to be a good guy, just like the suckers out there. And it’s me confessing to a crime, that by now, everyone knows I’m guilty of.

For years now, this blog has been my diary. And who knows? Maybe it’ll hold some meaning for the internet archeologist who discovers it in the drizzle of some abandoned cloud, five hundred years from now. Or maybe I’ve only written it because bloggers come in two flavours: manic egoists and the desperately lonely. Each obsessively seeking the approval of others.

Try to guess which flavour I am, by the way. Hint: I haven’t cleaned up my apartment in over 6 months, and my last girlfriend started an Instagram account exclusively to smut-shame me after dumping me when she found my stash of  ‘70s vintage pornography. Her Instagram account features dozens of adult entertainers displaying a diversity of sexual eccentricities. Each pic attributed to me, with my photo, email and Twitter handle attached, cycling over and over for all the world to see.

I don’t know what flavours Instagrammers come in.

Tomorrow is supposed to be my third day working at what was meant to be my new and redeeming job as a Walmart Greeter. And the third time I was to be forced to do the “motivational” pre-shift Bumble Bee Dance. But it didn’t quite get through my shift, for reasons I’m about to explain.

I got the job through a seniors’ employment program at the YMCA, where my Employment Counsellor was an intern named Debbie. Debbie liked Disneyland, energy drinks and Beyoncé, and was surprised to discover that I’m only sixty-nine. She could have sworn, she said, that I was much older, in a sort of sweet grandfatherly way. Nice. And it was there, sitting together in her tiny three walled cubicle with a Beyoncé calendar pinned to the portable fabric wall above her desk, that I tried to explain my unduly aged appearance.

“It was my second marriage,” I said. “The first wife was okay. Her name was Valentina. We did some really weird shit together.” I shrugged and sighed. “They found her dead in her Ford Pinto one day. Bullet in the head. Didn’t change a thing, though; she was still gorgeous when I identified her in the morgue, head wound or no. Maybe it was the loan sharks that got to her, like the cops said. Who knows. We ran with some mighty rough hombres, back then. I still miss her sometimes. She was good in a knife fight.

“But it was the second wife, Amelie. She was a Scientologist. Aged me something awful. Guess that’s why I look the way I do.

“And then there’s my last girlfriend. Dumped me a little over a year ago. I’m reminded of her every day. By little things. Wanna see her Instagram account?”

Debbie said she didn’t, but asked me straight out: why was I looking for employment, instead of enjoying retirement.

I told her it was complicated, but that it had to do with the ins-‘n’-outs of the endless asymmetrical underground war between the Mexican Government and assorted drug cartels, and how easy it was to lose one’s life savings getting caught in the middle, with a shipping container full of brickweed destined for the US college market, while holding a forged Maersk Line bill of lading with the Mexican Mafia on my tail.

There came a dim moment of silence.

“See?” I said. “Complicated.”

Bewildered, Debbie handed me a slip of paper with a  job lead scratched on it.

“This company has a reputation for hiring seniors,” she said.

And that was it.

The meeting ended with us looking into each other’s eyes. She wasn’t bad looking, but I wondered if I would still respect her once she’d aged, once the damage of time and circumstance were engraved on her face.

“You better go,” she said.

Yeah, women say that a lot.

As it turned out, the company with the reputation was Walmart. The big box supermarket/department store combo, stocking inventories of down-market consumer goods, targeting lower income costumers with lower life expectations. 200,000 different brands of merchandise spread across 15,000 square metres.

Most of the Walmart employees doomed to do the Bumble Bee Dance were weary looking high school dropouts with nervous ticks and facial scabs. Bubba Henry was the shift lead, dressed in poorly fitting clothes, counterfeit Pakistani Levis jeans and a polyester shirt—pink flamingos against a black background. He smelled a little like smoked oysters, and was a gesticulating fiend. And possessing a dexterity rare in non-evangelicals, he danced the Bumble Bee shouting louder and wiggling his hips harder than any of us. He had more heart than any anyone in the room, in the way that the truly idiotic often do.

Bubba had hired me after a very brief interview. It took me only 45 seconds to come to hate him.

My first day was a four hour orientation shift, where I and other new employees were introduced to the deep occult meaning of Walmart policy, and the importance of absolute unquestioning obedience to management. And above all, we were warned to avoid ever being Coached.

Coached, it turned out, was the word Walmart used for disciplining low end staff who were in the shit. It was an extreme form of corporate bullying, and a brutal and unequivocal reminder that though we could go home at night, we were slaves of a self-perpetuating recessionary cycle. Our situation was hopeless. Slackers, complainers and people with ideas were just nails to be hammered down into the vinyl flooring. Union organisers, on the other hand, it was whispered, were ritualistically executed on the loading dock, and disappeared into the massive laneway trash compactor. Afterwards, their homes were incinerated in the dark of night with all occupants locked inside.

Walmart hates unions.

Orientation left me feeling like I’d leaned out of a car at 80 mile an hour, and licked the pavement.

On my second day, after the Bumble Bee Dance and Cheer, I took my position near the main entrance, facing an already large milling rabble on the other side of the locked glass doors, waiting to take advantage of a special Door Crasher bargain price on a limited supply of Sweet Sue Canned Whole Chicken with Giblets. Limit: two cans per customer, no rain checks, double the Air Miles.

Some in the crowd stared at me through the glass with blank expressions and buggish eyes, like fish in an aquarium, making blub-blubbing movements with their mouths.

I wanted to run; I should have run. When the doors opened, I’d be an obstacle in the way of these bargain crazed demons. To them, I was the Chicken Keeper—the only thing standing between them and canned chicken bliss. I was stampede bait. They were going to rip me to pieces. Could this be what it meant to be a Walmart Greeter?

9 a.m.! I heard Bubba say, as he came up behind me. It was time to open up and let our valued customers in, but he must have seen something my eyes, something that disgusted him, because he put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it hard.

“You stink of fear, old man,” he said. Scorn in his squinty starling eyes. “Remember, a true Walmart Greeter knows no fear, only the joy of greeting and directing customers to Walmart’s excellent selection of quality value-priced merchandise, and deflecting all criticism away from management and the Corporation, onto yourself. Do you understand?” he asked. “Do you need Coaching?”

I thought about the overdue rent and my empty refrigerator. Running wasn’t an option.

“No,” I said. “I don’t need Coaching.”

“Sir,” Bubba said. “You address me as Sir. No, I don’t need Coaching, Sir!”

The heat of his indignation was close to igniting the excess Old Spice he wore to mask the aroma of smoky oysters.

“No, sir,” I said. “I don’t need coaching, Sir.”

“That’s better,” he said. “Now smile and look accommodating. And don’t worry. We’ve got enough chicken and giblets back there to feed the entire continent of Africa. Limit: 2 cans per customer.”

Then, “Fuck, I hate Greeters,” he said, as he went to open the doors.

And he was the master of opening. Confident, making no eye contact with the blub-blubbing throng as he inserted the key. Cool, even as the mob heaved forward at the sound of lock tumblers engaging, causing the glass to flex and bulge. He’d studied his vocation at the Walmart Labs in Bentonville, Arkansas. He’d been top in his class. When he removed the key, he deftly stepped out of the way, like a 250 pound ballerina.

Then it began.

The onslaught of single-minded dead-eyed humanity was terrifying. It was the chicken-zombie-shopper apocalypse, and Bubba had disappeared through some hidden door in the wall. I was paralysed by a repulsive fear, but I somehow stood my ground. As the grim and unruly horde shouldered past me, I was nearly knocked to the floor several times. But I smiled, nonetheless, and greeted—Hello Ma’am, Good Morning Sir.

Then out of nowhere, she appeared. A mammalian thing I’d no idea existed. Defying all established limits of cryptozoological possibilities—

It was the Shrieking Woman.

“My God,” she shrieked, grabbing me by my new blue vest, pushing me into a stacked display of Chuck Norris Fruity Uzis breakfast cereal. “Where’s the chicken?—the goddam chicken, man! Stop stuttering, spit it out.”

When I couldn’t answer fast enough, she picked me up and pinned me against a pillar. Her grip was like a vice.

It’s true, I was stuttering. I who had faced down the Mexican Federales, as I drove a truckload of bargain basement hashish, disguised as a shipment of hand painted sugar skulls, through a checkpoint in Michoacán. And I realised then, as she held me hard against the concert load bearing member, next to the sign directing customers to the nearest washroom, that escaping this fire-sale running of the bulls would be impossible. I’d been setup as a chump. But suddenly, as the Shrieking Woman kicked me in the shin, I was inspired by the smirking image of Chuck Norris on the cereal boxes on the floor, and karate chopped her hands off of my vest, and hollered, “Fuck off, you psycho bitch!”

It was an exclamation heard throughout the store. And the marauding mass halted, turning to look at me in awe.

“Did that Greeter just say fuck off you psycho bitch to a customer?” said one of the giblet zombies.

“Yeah,” said the Shrieking Woman with the vice-like grip. Her eyes were flaring, her hair was a brittle peroxide-blonde fire hazard. “He told me to fuck off, and called me a bitch.”

“Disgraceful!” a voice called out. There were growing murmurs of agreement and rage.

“Then he struck me,” she said. Weeping, as she transformed from deranged to tragic. She’d become a black hole, sucking every scrap of sympathy out of the cold collective.

“He hit you?” a woman shouted, grabbing her husband. Making the two of them an American Gothic on crack.

“I have a disabled child at home,” said the Shrieking Woman. “Little Amy. Only six years old. She’s got the Tourette syndrome.” There were gasps. “I’m homeschooling her, because they won’t let her go to public school and play with the other children. And we’re so poor that I have to drive a ‘79 Honda Civic, with a cracked windshield and no cigarette lighter. I only asked him where the chicken was. Little Amy loves her canned whole chicken with giblets.”

“But he’s just a Greeter,” someone near the back shouted. “He can’t do that. Only management can do that.”

“But he did,” yelled another person, shaking his fist.

Then began the inevitable. A kind of benighted inquiry only possible in the age of the Putin, Trump, Hannity, Motel 6 ménage à troi.

“Don’t they bring the Greeters in illegally, from Venezuela? I saw it on Reddit. Someone has to call the Immigration Service.”

“He looks Venezuelan, to me,” said a man in a hardhat. “My brother in-law was Venezuelan. A gun nut. He made his own bullets in his basement. Blew his head off when the bullet press exploded. They didn’t find his body for a week, because my sister was in detox. That’s when they discovered he was a crossdresser, lying there dead and smellin’ up the joint in a flower print dress and fluffy pink slippers. It broke my sister’s heart. He had good taste, though. Sis was pretty happy to inherit his hidden wardrobe.”

“What’s wrong with being Venezuelan?” asked a timid man with a foreign accent. The crowd quickly encircled him.

“They’re shifty and unclean!” said a woman smelling of nicotine and eucalyptus.

“We are not,” the timid man said.

“What the hell’s going on here?” It was Bubba, appearing loudly out of nowhere. “Let’s clear this area. Yer blocking the exits.”

“The Greeter assaulted a customer,” said a young woman in a Guns

N’ Roses tee. “He used kung fu. Mother Fucker used the F word, too.”

“What’s this all about, Larry?” Bubba said.

I told him the crowd was out of control. “That woman,” I pointed, “she was ready to kill me over a can of chicken. I had to defend myself.” Panic was peeking round a corner in my guts.

“She’s got a daughter with Tourette syndrome,” someone cried. “I’m not sure what that is, but I hope they don’t have a vaccine for it. Vaccines cause the bubonic plague, you know. My brother got it and had to have his tonsils out, the little mite.”

“Is this true?” Bubba said to me. He looked horrified.

“No,” I said. “Vaccines are perfectly safe.”

“Don’t mess with me, you old geezer. Did you assault a customer?”

“Well technically, yes,” I said, “though a judge wound probably throw it outta court.”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Bubba said, turning his attention to the crowd and smiling like an eel, “please try to forget this tragic incident, and know that I will handle it appropriately. Now please proceed to aisle 5 to take advantage of Walmart’s sensationally low price on Sweet Sue Canned Whole Chicken with Giblets in the 50oz Can. Limit: two cans per customer, no rain checks, double the Air Miles. And please remember to speak enthusiastically to friends and family about your outstanding Walmart shopping experience.”

“I want free chicken,” said my supposed victim, “five of ’em. And triple the Air Miles. I’m taking Little Amy to Jesusland USA. She’s got Tourette syndrome, you know.”

“Fuck,” Bubba muttered at me. “I’ve got red hot pokers in the back with your name on them.”

“I want free chicken, too,” said someone else. “I found this whole experience traumatising.”

“Me too!” others in the crowd began shouting.

“Alright, alright.” Bubba had his hands in the air, trying to calm things down. “Remain where you are, and I’ll have someone come out.” He took a walkie-talkie form his belt, and spoke to a crackly voice at the other end. Then putting the two-way back on his belt, he said, “A manager will be right out.”

“It’s the trash compacter for you, grandpa,” he whispered to me, like a steam pipe. Then grabbing me by the collar, he pulled me down an aisle into a backroom.

“Sit down,” he said, as he slammed the door.

I sat.

“I’ve never met a Greeter that’s worth a damn.” He stuck his finger in his ear and began digging, viciously. “No one else is stupid enough to do the job, so they hire rejects and old sons-a-bitches like you. I hate old sons-a-bitches like you. Always calling in sick. Always falling down and can’t get up. Always making stupid jokes, or bitching about your aches and pains, or carrying on about how things were different once, a long time ago when everything was actually just shit compared to now and they didn’t even have the Netflix. Always talking about how great your grandkids are, who really think yer fucking wanker and laugh behind yer back at how yer jeans sag in the ass.”

He took his finger out of his ear, to see what he’d found.

“That’s kinda ageist,” I said.

“You know what I did to the last Greeter who fucked up? I really Coached her. And let me tell you, she didn’t fuck up nearly as bad as you. I put her into the trunk of my car, and I drove her fifty miles outta town and left her on the highway. She had borderline dementia. I bet she never made it back. I bet she’s sitting at a gas station lunch counter right now, talking to herself and depending upon the kindness of strangers.”

I almost choked on the Old Spice tsunami, when he bent over me and leaned in close. Now we were nose to nose.

“You know what I think?” he said.

“I’m not sure,” I replied, “but I can guess and you can tell me if I’m close. You think that chem-trails contain mind controlling substances that pacify the masses and make us all stooges of a Deep State Shadow Government?”

He looked a little stunned, as though I’d read his mind.

“No,” he said, licking his lips and digging his finger back into his ear. “I think you need to fall down a long flight of stairs. I’ve found that senior citizens break like China cups on the stairs.”

Things had changed. It didn’t sound like just talk, anymore.

He was giving me no choice; I had to take him seriously. I’d already had a near death experience out on the floor. Anything was possible. Instinctively, I’d cased the room when I entered. There was a small fire extinguisher in a case on the wall, next to where I sat. And Bubba wasn’t considering all of the possibilities. Like that maybe I’d gotten myself out of far worse situations. A long time ago before Netflix. To him, I was just old. His mistake.

“Then when you’re all busted up,” he continued, “I’ll throw you into my car trunk and drive you to an alley I know on the bad side of town, and dump you there. The crack heads’ll use you for a toilet.”

Swell, so he’d seen too many Joe Pesci movies.

Among other criminal-past advantages I held over Bubba, was knowing that one should never stand too close to the person one is trying to intimidate unless that person is tied down. And never under estimate an old fart. He’s probably angrier and meaner than you.

So, I lifted my knee into his junk, extra hard. Then clobbered him across the nose with an arthritic left. When he staggered backward, I elbowed the glass plate of the fire extinguisher case, and retrieved the contents. I’ve always loved small handheld fire extinguishers. They’re hard as a rock, and just the right size and weight to cave-in a skull.

By now, Bubba had fallen backward over a chair and was struggling to get up. I walked over and hammered him over the head with the butt end of the little red steel cylinder. It felt so good that I did it again. A black pool of blood bled out round his head, where he’d fallen onto the floor.

“Greet that, asshole,” I said.

After about 5 minutes of heavy lifting, I was able to heave him onto a flat dolly. Then I put a tarp over him and rolled him out through the busy store. A few of the Associates on the sales-floor asked what I was doing. I told them I was rolling Bubba’s dead body out to my car. There was laughter, and everyone said GREAT!

So now Bubba’s slouched over on my couch, sort of in a sitting position. Mouth open like he’s still breathing, but he isn’t. I brought him home when I left the store, thinking I might bury him at night in a nearby park. It’s nice there. Better than he deserves. But I changed my mind. He ain’t worth it. He can stay on the couch. I’ll turn on the TV for him before I leave. There are rats in the wall.

I write this confession out of what might be a mistaken sense of duty to ageing Walmart Greeters everywhere. It may provide some hope. My message is this: Submit to no one and remember that it’s our age that makes us beautiful, man.

I plan to leave tomorrow morning, and should be in Mexico in a couple of days. By then, even Bubba’s over dose of Old Spice won’t be enough to cover up his post-mortem funk. He’ll be found, unlike the old gal he drove outta town.

Like I said at the start, I tried to go straight but it didn’t work. I thought it mightn’t. The world of squares isn’t for me, never was. I’ve got some cash, hidden in an abandoned mine in the Sierra Madre. And some under the floorboards of a ghetto hovel in Mexico City. Enough to live out on the desert.

Don’t bother looking for me. I’m old; I’m invisible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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DSM 6 Preview of Trumpopathic Personality Disorder

Characterised by internalised penis envy, resulting in the erection of phallic edifices named for the individual in lieu of actual personal erectile function, Clinical Trumpopathic Disorder is a DSM-6 diagnosis. Common traits include sadistic tendencies and body dysmorphic disorder strongly associated with the hands, and an overall bodily orange tinge.

Individuals with Clinical Trumpopathic Disorder routinely infringe upon the rights of others without regret, in the pursuit of self-aggrandisement, and the sale of items such as steaks and placements in fake universities. A characteristic lack of personal insight can even lead to the failure of such failure-proof businesses as casinos.

Clinical Trumpopathic Disorder is strongly linked to unethical behaviours, criminality and the instigation of vexatious and groundless civil actions in order to manipulate and cause personal damage to others. And can also include the eviction of little old ladies from long occupied, rent-controlled apartments.

Though it is still unclear whether Clinical Trumpopathic Disorder is genetically based, some evidence exists that it can be instigated by the granting, by family, of a “small” one million dollar loan at the onset of adulthood.

The term, Clinical Trumpopathic Disorder may cause confusion for some, as the more common definitions, outside of clinical usage, are asshole, dick, dick-head, sphincter-face, jerk-off, shit head, that fucker with the dime store toupee and a “C”- word which fails to meet the high standards of clinical nomenclature, but that might be spelled, phonetically, as “c-u-next-Tuesday”.

If untreated, individuals with Clinical Trumpopathic Disorder will possess Messiahological qualities, and are experts at obtaining sympathy from others, by feigning victimisation or prejudice.

A profile of those prone to falling prey to individuals exhibiting this behaviour will appear in the next full edition of the DSM (see Delusional Minionism).

Beneath the superficial charm of people with Clinical Trumpopathic Disorder, lies a pathological need to witness the fullest possible suffering in others. And hairspray, baby – lots of hairspray!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

summer drive

 

because you are a poet
—born onto you like a map—
you hear Bukowski in the double clutch
sense Plath in your speed &
watch Kerouac on the odometer
while on the roadside stands
the empire of things thrown from cars
never finding their ways home
ghosts on the last broken headlight off-ramp
you travel on an August night
buses & trucks & neon
into the city
of the roller of big cigars

 

 

The Emperor of Ice-Cream

 

 

 

 

 

 

riggin’

1971

“Hand me the riggin’,” said Paul Vaillancourt.

I looked at the neatly laid out array of engine parts that surrounded us, and chose a likely candidate. I wasn’t mechanical. Didn’t care to be. Didn’t care to be dirty. Didn’t want to play rough. Or exchange juvenile bullshit about auto mechanics.

There was local folklore, in fact, about my avoidance of boyishness. I sensed, though at the time I would not have been able to verbalise it, not having the vocabulary, that family, friends and neighbours were worried that I might never achieve proper boyhood, with all of the future consequences that implied. My brother and others, using words like faggot, helped to expand my personal moving glossary on the topic.

Riggin’, by the way—

Paul often used this kind of word. Old Manitoba words. Fashioned long ago. Allowing a user to never call a thing by its actual name. A tradition brought with him to Vancouver, from the town of Morden, Manitoba. Round-abouts Dead Horse Creek, he’d say. Paul believed calling a thing by its real name was for suckers.

He lived in the house next to my family’s. He was 61. And worked in a mill. A place, I imagined, not really knowing for sure, that was full of riggin’s.

I’d chosen well. The riggin’ he’d asked me to hand him was called a carburetor. For the old Ford inline 6 Paul was working on. I was 9, and had wrapped my small hands round it and hefted it up. Paul grabbed it from me with one big hand without taking his eyes off what he was doing under the hood. The carburetor was oily. I looked for somewhere to wipe my hands.

“Rags’re over there,” he said, without pointing in any direction, as he cranked a ratchet wrench. I did a 360. Saw nothing. Wiped my hands on my tee-shirt.

“Your mother ain’t gonna like that,” said Paul. Again, without looking away from his work. Later in life, I learned the word uncanny. Paul’s Bluetooth telepathy was uncanny.

He produced a rag, pulling himself out from under the hood. And tossed it my way.

He was grey and balding. Close shave. Wearing jeans, work boots and a plaid shirt. Smelling of Vitalis and gasoline.

“A haunted house in a city just ain’t the same as out on a prairie,” he declared, wiping his hands with another mysteriously gotten rag. He was starting again from where we’d left off on our earlier haunted conversation. I came to him occasionally with the big questions.

“On a prairie,” he said, “it’d be an old farm house. Maybe abandoned since the depression—damn those were some hard times. Yup, a prairie haunted house is the loneliest place in the world. Spooks attracting spooks from miles around. Real social. But no place for the livin’. Ghosts the colour of the high grass and prairie flowers in the summer. Movin’ the same in the wind. White like frost in the winter, standing real still like something frozen, but ain’t. Inside, when you get inside and start nosin’ round, they’re the shape of the stairs and the doors and the windowpanes. Standing behind you in a mirror, if there’s still one hanging on the wall. Maybe matching yer step, walking upside down on the ceiling ‘neath the floor yer walking on. Walking up the walls, like on a sidewalk in town. Lookin’ atcha through a window, from inside or out. Gettin’ inta yer soul, if they can. Readin’ you like a poem, one stanza at a time. Yer a poem, boy. You know that? Every man is. Every woman, too. Though a man ain’t as prone to admitting it, as much as a woman. Ghosts get in a man and read him stanza by stanza. Sounds like a whisper when you try to listen.” He looked at his hands as he wiped the grease and oil from them.

I said, “I was only thinking of the big black old place up on 8th Avenue.”

“Been in there?”

“No way.” I lied.

He gave me a sly look. Like he knew a little better.

“Then how you know it’s haunted?”

“Just looks haunted,” I said, though I had a more concrete reason to believe that it was. Secret. I hadn’t shared it. I was already a suspicious neighborhood character. “Everyone says it’s haunted. Joe Farano, Bobby Jensen.” But it was all talk, on their part. They hadn’t seen the little round-faced girl looking out through a window at the back of the house. Younger than me. Maybe 7. I was braver than most. And fewer friends meant more time on my hands. So I ended up there that evening. She smiled when our eyes met. I had a rock in my hand. It was like she was daring me to throw it at her. Through one of the last unbroken windows. (Why else would a boy be in the back yard of an abandoned house, if not to throw rocks through windows?) I didn’t, though. And she came out onto the back porch, gave a little wave and then disappeared. Then there was invisible movement everywhere. It was dusk.

“Ghosts the shape of the front door, then?” Paul continued with the questions. “Shape of the gables, the porch? Leaves of the trees, the dandelions?”

I shrugged. This wasn’t the conversation I was expecting.

“Are there lights at night? In the windows. On the walk up to the steps?”

“I don’t know.” It wasn’t true. The invisible movement around me that dusky evening had turned into a parade of lights.

“Did ya feel yer stanzas bein’ read?” he asked. “Out loud? In whispers? It’s loudest just before you go to sleep at night, mostly. Just before you cross the line into dreamin’. But sometimes it’s louder when they aren’t inside of you, just real nearby.”

“No,” I said. But, maybe, I thought. And wondered if it showed, when a boy’s stanzas had been read.

“Ghosts are tricky,” said Paul Vaillancourt, lighting an Export “A”. “Some even say, artful.”

Artful. I looked the word up later. In the massive Webster’s Dictionary my father placed on the kitchen stool when he cut my and my brother’s hair with the electric razor he’d bought at Simpson Sears one weekend past a payday long ago in my family’s misty past. The big fat book made our little heads high enough for him to do a decent job. (My father, an industrial printer by trade, was a failure as a barber. So, we almost always ended up nearly bald.)

Ghosts could be artful, I decided after reading the word’s definition. They’d evolved into their own peculiar civilization, I came to believe, piecing together this theory without being able to articulate as much. Like Aztecs. Building pyramids. Block by block. Able to read the interior Stanzas of Mankind. And some of them were just up the street. Residing within their very own immeasurable, artifactual tarpaper abode. Each in a shape he or she had chosen for his or her own artful reasons.

Paul retook his place under the hood, asking me to hand him the riggin’ next to the alternator.

The alternator, what the…?

I chose another likely candidate. One as likely as the rest. Wondering at the oddness of the Ford inline 6. Choosing well once more. The engine fan. I hefted it up, into Paul’s waiting hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Horoscope of the Apocalypse – April Fools 2018 Edition

I think I know how disappointing it must be coming here and expecting a straight horoscope. But too bad. That’s what happens when you look for hope on the internet.

Fire Signs (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) Remember those hand buzzer things that people used to hide in the palm of their hands and then shake your hand, and then they’d bust a gut laughing because they had such empty lives that that kind of lame crapola was enough to send them into seizures and it wasn’t the hand buzzer that pissed you off as much as the way the SOB was carrying on guffawing like a fool and you felt like pushing him into traffic and then he’d slap you on the back and says no hard feelings, but you went out and slashed his tires anyway before work was over? Do you remember that?

I have pictures.

Earth Signs (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn) C’mon, admit it. Everyday is April Fools day for Earth Signs. But what about the gag where someone ties a string to a twenty dollar bill and you see it, bend over to pick it up and the bastard pulls the string and you trip and fall flat on your face on the sidewalk where everyone can see. Don’t you hate that? Or how about when someone puts salt in the sugar bowl? And then there’s that trick where they tie a string of rags together, douse it with gasoline and run it from your gas tank to some place behind a tree or a bush and they wait until you get in the car to light it and you get all blasted to shit while you’re trying to tune in that crappy classic rock station that you love so much but that everyone else in the car pool hates.

Shit, I hate classic rock.

Air Signs (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius) I had a friend once who took all of the white stuff out of my Oreos and replaced it with toothpaste. Then he put them back in the bag like nothing had happened. I ate them all and didn’t say a word. I waited twenty years, until the time was right. Then I paid this unemployed guy named Jerome who cuts the lawn for my church to take the Oreo guy out to an empty field off Highway 32 and bury him alive so that just his head was sticking out of the ground because I knew the farmer was ploughing the next morning.

I think the farmer was an Air Sign.

Water Signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces) So, this Water Sign chick I knew once decided to rearrange the contents of a co-worker’s desk so that when he arrived on April Fools morning everything would be all out of place. She got half way through doing it and found an envelope of photos of her friend shaking hands with a pack of aliens in the parking lot of a KFC. They were a bunch of those tall white bastards who abduct children and pets. He was all buddy-buddy with these extraterrestrials and they had all of these buckets of extra crispy chicken and all the fixin’s and their space ship was parked in a handicap space. So, she began to wonder about the guy and hired a private investigator to follow him and get more dirt on his relationship with these creepy alien types. Anyway, they found the body of the private dick in a trash compactor out back of a Pizza Hut. Now she put two and two together and realised that KFC and Pizza Hut were both owned by the Pepsi Cola Company, so she started to drink Coke instead of Pepsi until one day she choked to death on this big chunk of melamine that was in a bottle of Coke a friend brought back from China — oh shit, I forgot where I was going with this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

riddle of the keys, part 1

the present

Narrator’s Note:

Love is angry and afraid. Cowardly like a gun, but it bites like a bullet. Disagreeable. But love is the theme of what follows. Or maybe not, entirely. Dear Reader, you must be the judge. Perhaps this composition is only about pain.

I am 97 years old now, and the account delivered here is a fragment taken from the diary I began in 1939. It is an endowment I give to the world. I don’t know why. The impulse came to me one day as I looked out of a window at the rain.

The story describes very little about me, except that I was once a notorious voyeur, with the wealth and time to gain that reputation. Some of it is speculative; some of it is gossip. Not out of dishonesty, but due to an unpleasant lack of knowledge and poor memory.

If the characters are sympathetic, it is only because they defy understanding, as do we all.

Call me Simone, a wartime alias that still suits me.

So, let us begin. 


October 27, 1947

To be small and homosexual, and having never achieved conventional manhood, has its advantages. Androgyny served me well in the occupied city. It helped me infiltrating the world of powerful men, away from their homes and family orthodoxies, able for the first time to pursue the gender ambiguity they craved, and their love of boys. Yes, there is no polite word for it; I was a child prostitute. (Though I am the age of majority as I write this.) And there are stories I can tell that would bring men down, if one day I am reduced to chipping out a living though blackmail. But until then, I am a slave to an obsession—a woman, strangely—who was once a spy and an assassin in the darkened City of Light. Slender, green-eyed and blond. Her name, then, was alias Avalon.

She is Canadian, again strangely. No one wants to think of a citizen of that good Dominion as a cutthroat. But she was and is, and deadly.

Hers is a story whose last chapter ended as the Nazi enchantment faded across Europe and the world, and the once most-mighty were reduced to suicide or fabricating tales of innocence, but not before she killed as many as she could.

The next chapter begins now, as this DC-3 lands at the airport that serves a grim little city called Vancouver. The place where I’ve followed Trudy Parr, my Avalon, and two others. One who will remain nameless for now, and someone else—one alias Monet, who never stopped being a spy.

Monet: (Once a double agent?) (Reluctant Vichy sympathiser?) (Fascist turncoat, turned Allied turncoat, turned shadow, turned ghost?) And the lover, once, of my dear Avalon.

Yes, to be honest, I am not only obsessed with Avalon. But also with an extraordinary love story, that began during the shank of the war. As Avalon and Monet were at their busiest and most fatal.

They had both been in the occupied city from the beginning. Unaware of each other. Distracted by their separate missions and trespasses. Neither of them a romantic candidate, when seen at their work. Each walking their own corridors of war. Avalon, a gallery of inborn rage and the pursuit of prey. Monet, the halls of vengeance for the loss of country to a rude race and its vulgar philosophy.

But a passion did begin between them, somehow, as their lines crossed. Only glances at first, and small careful words at the edge of all the perversion. Then devotion, surrounded by all of the cruelty. Meeting where mysteries met—abandoned lofts, and the elegant rooms of the freshly dead. And also, the very secret Peony Club. The ever-moving underground cabaret, where some, so surprised to be still alive, would come together.

Neither Monet nor Avalon knew when love arrived, because it said nothing. Hiding wretchedly. Waiting to bite, like a bullet.

So, that when la Résistance took back the streets of Paris, as the Nazis ran and fell, and the diesel musk of the US Third Army wafted over the horizon, after one last night of love’s tender violence, Monet’s word was final, “I may have waited too long.” A final long kiss on a stone terrace above the street fight, and the spy faded into the bedlam of the la Libération.

And how can anyone really know, but it is rumoured that alias Avalon wept and pined for days, and for the last time. Days later, she made her long way home.

Now, as I sit writing, waiting for my luggage in the airport terminal, I ask you to anticipate with me, what will soon be revealed.


The afternoon, October 28, 1947

There is a marmalade cat seated with its back to the room, next to the ghostly flowering spathiphyllum on the sideboard, with the filmy October afternoon sunlight, blue, green, gold and red, filtering through the stained glass.

There is a man in the room, also, pale and of medium height, once blonde, neither old nor young, who calls himself Fabien Lévêque, sitting in an armchair reading a French translation of The Fountainhead, raising an eyebrow now and then, and occasionally shaking his head slowly.

Turning a page, and sighing, he looks up and says, “Come to me Molly.”

Molly, the marmalade cat, ignores him.

“You’re a bitch,” says Lévêque. “I brought you home for companionship. You might as well be a woman.”

Molly licks her paws.

It’s a tidy suite of rooms, built at the end of the previous century, mirroring an old mahogany and beveled glass aesthetic. Something Howard Roark, the hero of Ayn Rand’s cumbersome novel, would have found hopelessly quaint. But it was just right for Falcon Lévêque, so weary of the megalomaniacal blood and soil design of the fascist Europe he’d left behind.

And he loves the city he’s chosen for his temporary home, surrounded by an endless northern rainforest. So unselfconsciously rustic. The neighbourhood he’s settled in is called Kerrisdale, a whistle-stop on the city’s interurban. What could be more whimsical?

Here there is no Résistance, no murderers in the shadows. No Gestapo operatives listening in the next room. And no Jews concealed in the woodwork, though they walk the streets here, plotting against the future.

Lévêque has been careful to cloak himself in the guise of a Québécois, trading his Parisian accent for the feral French Canadian. He’s shaved away his pencil moustache, changed his hair and has even intentionally gained weight, achieving, all-in-all, the look of a kind uncle. As a realist, however, he knows that one day his past must catch up to him. His hope, in that case, is that the Nazi cachet will have faded, and be mostly forgiven. If not, he had money and plans to escape help him escape.

It wouldn’t happen here, though. His time in Vancouver will be too brief.

The telephone rings, and he checks his watch. It is 3:00pm.

“Hello,” he says. “Rachel?”

“Yes, Mr. Lévêque.” It’s a young woman at the other end. “Your cake and cocoa are ready.”

It is the tea shop downstairs.

“I’ll be right down,” Lévêque says, then hangs up. Looking at Molly, he says, “They ate cats in the Ghetto, you know”

Molly says nothing, watching birds through the window.

In the tea shop, Lévêque takes a seat near the back at a table reserved for him. Moments later, a young woman arrives with a slice of apple torte and a  steaming cup of cocoa.

“Ah, thank you Rachel,” he says, taking up a copy of the Vancouver Sun. “You are an angel.”

Rachel performs a shy curtsy, the way Lévêque has taught her, and leaves him to read his paper.

Lévêque grins. On the front page is a story of more European Jews recovering stolen property, taken from them by Nazis. He’d been careful. None of the Jews he’d stolen from had survived to recover anything.

He strokes the face of the 18-Carat Audemars Piguet Chronograph on his wrist. The one he’d stripped from the art dealer’s wrist; the Jew art dealer who had bled-out with a bullet in his head, sitting tied to a chair in the basement of 84 Avenue Foch, in Paris.

Lévêque was thrifty, using only one bullet.

There’d been enough money in the Jew’s billfold to buy Lévêque a new pair of shoes, but it was the ring of keys in the art dealer’s pocket that excited him. The larger keys would open the dealer’s residence and shop. But two others, smaller, had been a mystery, until Lévêque asked the dealer’s wife.

It hadn’t taken long, a few standard questions. Especially after a cohort of his had whispered into his ear that she was a pianist, not famous but talented. That was when he called out for a pair of garden shears, and threatened to remove the thumb from her each of her hands.

She’d been brave at first, saying nothing. Unsure with her chin held not too high. Such a possibility was inconceivable, was it not? But Lévêque proved it wasn’t, as she screamed and he cut through flesh and bone, while functionaries held her down.

He would remove the rest one by one, he told her, if she didn’t reveal the secrets of the small keys. And when she did, he slapped her repeatedly for her weakness. A week later, she was in Natzweiler-Struthof.

He’d stolen much Jewish treasure by similar means during the occupation, converting most of it to cash, and the cash into gold. Making himself very rich.

But now, as he read, he found something disturbing in the newspaper story. In the middle of the third column. A featured photograph of a man referred to as a war criminal. A familiar face. A man when he was young. A man named Falcon Lebeau.


Evening, October 28, 1947

Like nearly everyone in this story, Dracul had another name. The one his loving mother gave him. But no one knew what it was. He had arrived in Vancouver from Romania so many foggy nights ago that people had stopped counting. Some said that he was a spy left over from the First War, who didn’t know how to retire. And though he remained a reliable wealth of current and archival intelligence about foreign wars and nearby espionage, he was insane. Elderly, too. Agedness and insanity, an unfortunate combination.

He’d been handsome once, but no longer. And once he must have enjoyed a certain elegance. Now, however, his all black costume—suit, shoes, shirt and tie—verged on shabby. This, with his long knotty hands and his hunched back, made him more of a nightmare shadow than a man.

“Mirrors eat me in the morning,” he told Trudy Parr without prompting, as they sat together late by candlelight at a table in the Sylvia Hotel lounge. His accent was thick. “Then they spit me out in the night. Ptew, onto the floor. And every time, my face has changed.” Here he leaned in—he always did—and lowered his voice. “Completely unrecognisable, each time. That is my gift. Only you ever know me to see me, Miss Parr. That is why I love you.” Grinning, he rubbed his long hands together. “That is how I walk freely, incognito, upon the sidewalks of this New World.”

It was an old story, and he enjoyed telling it. Loved its possibilities, Trudy imagined. A different man each night. It kept him young at some place inside of him he called his heart.

And maybe the story was true. Many swore that he had no shadow. That he was clairvoyant. That he could vanish and reappear as he pleased. He could call down angels, and performed the trick of producing an incorruptible Joan of Arc in the palm of his hand. A Goddess at the stake, in command of her red and golden fire.

“People don’t call me Miss Parr,” Trudy said. “People call me Trudy. Don’t make me say it again.”

“An honourable familiarity, I’m sure.” Dracul nodded his head, a seated bow, and sipped his whisky.

Trudy sipped her vodka and Coke.

“You said you had something to tell me,” she said.

“Yes, and I must admit that it was only a theory a day or two ago.”

“Theories bore me, Dracul.” Trudy looked at her watch.

“Hmm, never dismiss a theory,” the old man said. “A theory attracts evidence, as gravity attracts mass.”

“Alright.” She extinguished her cigarette, and stood to put her coat.

“But wait!” he said, “Please sit. It’s not so much a theory anymore. There’s evidence in its orbit. And so it has become an opinion, just short of a truth. Diamonds and rubies.”

She stared down at him for a moment. A man without a shadow. Reborn nightly to mirrors.

“Answer me this,” said the old man. “Can a key do more than open a lock? Sit now, Trudy Parr. Listen, and I’ll order more drinks.”

“No, I’ll order the drinks,” she said, hailing the waiter as she sat down again. “You just do the talking. Tell me about the diamonds and rubies.”

“Vast rooms, miles wide,” he said, spreading out his arms. “Passageways like avenues that coil the Moon. And a dent in space in the shape of a man.”

“Get on with it,” Trudy said.

“You know a demon,” said Dracul. “You tried to kill it once. It tried to kill you. You both failed. Sometimes you don’t sleep, thinking about it.”

“What the hell are you trying to say.” She was whispering, almost shouting. Her words overlapping his.

“That you have a chance to kill it, now.”

“Kill who?”

“It’s the Falcon, Trudy Parr. He is here. In the city.”

“I’m getting bored again,” she said.

It was too much—the Falcon in Vancouver. And Dracul’s lunacy was too much. She had her own madness to tend. It was sniggering at her now, peeking through a shroud.

“Maybe you’ve lived too long, you old witch,” she said. “Maybe I’ve got a razor my bag with your name on it.”

To this he said, “I read minds, you know.”

“Why am I not surprised?”

She took a breath, placing both of her hands palm down on the table where she could see them.

“So, read my mind.”

“I know that you would cut me with that razor at your side, if I pushed a little further. Your world is a moment. One moment that will not end as long as you’re alive. Like a circle, you stand alone in the centre of. With the world looking in. And I know that if anyone steps into the circle, into your moment, with you, he runs the risk of death.”

“Bastard.” She clenched her jaw. He was reading too deeply.

“The Falcon almost took that step,” said Dracul. “By following someone else.”

She saw Monet’s face fade into the black.

“Is that your opinion?”

“No. It is my opinion that the Falcon has cocoa and cake each afternoon at a tea shop, nearby. A dent in space in the shape of a man. He’s hiding behind an alias.” He slid a piece of paper torn from a note pad across the table. Trudy Parr stared at it.

The drinks had arrived. She sipped long on her vodka, and thought of him. Falcon. The traitor to France. The Nazi. The butcher. His ghostly acrimony. Body counts, hers and his. How he lacked the elegance he insisted was his. And how he made children his victims between assignments.

He’d gotten away from her, half through stealth, half by luck—the end of the War.

“Why here?” she said, wondering as she lit a cigarette.

“You know. A key can do more than open a lock.”

“A key.”

“The key.”

“Do you need money?” said Trudy Parr.

“You always ask,” said Dracul, “and I never do.”

This time when she stood up, she really did put on her coat. And when she looked, wanting to say goodbye, Dracul had disappeared.


Round Midnight, October 28, 1947. The office of the Dench & Parr Agency

Trudy Parr hadn’t seen it until she turned the key to open the door, the silhouette of a man and woman embracing on the other side of the frosted glass. The woman was struggling, just a little. Trudy could hear giggling. Stepping in, she found her business partner and an auburn haired woman holding one another.

“Hello Romeo,” said Trudy to Crispin Dench, giving the startled couple the once over. “Who’s the centrefold?”

“Oh,” Dench said, his tie undone and his shirt half untucked. “Trudy. Hello. Unexpected.” He let the woman go, and then sheepishly introduced her: “This is Daphne.”

“Who’s this, Crispy?” said the centrefold.

“Crispy?” Trudy smiled.

Dench had always been a sucker for this kind of lunch counter redhead, so rare in Vancouver. He must have felt like he’d won at the races.

“She’s the Parr, in Dench & Parr,” he said.

“Golly, a woman? What is she, the secretary?”

“I’m in a crappy mood, Crispin,” Trudy said.

“Keep your mouth shut,” said Dench to Daphne. “We might yet get out of this alive.”

“What’s this about, anyway?” Trudy said. “I think I recall you saying there’d be no shenanigans in the office. That fooling around onsite wasn’t how professionals operated.”

“Well, it’s just that Daphie’s a Dashiell Hammett fan. And she wanted to see a real private dick’s office. You know, where it all goes down?”

He was off his rocker.

“Okay, Mr Crispy Dick,” Trudy said. “I’m going into my office to brush up on my Sam Spade. Nice to have met you, Daphie.”

“She’s a bitch,” Daphie said. Just loud enough, as Trudy Parr closed her office door behind her.

“Alright, Daphne,” Dench said, looking out the window, “get your things.”

“What?”

“There’s a cab downstairs at the curb. You got fare?”

“Yeah, I got fare. You’re a crumb.”

“Here, let me help you with your coat.”

“Is she your girl? Is that it?”

“No, but we’ve been places.”

“I could be home listening to Arthur Godfrey, you know.”

“Well, now’s your chance.” Dench gently pushed her into the hall. “I’ll call.”

“Don’t bother.”

He sighed, then lit a cigarette as he listened to the elevator door slide shut. He was rarely at work this late, but knew that Trudy sometimes slept on her couch. He tapped on her door.

“Come,” she said.

“Want company?” said Dench, looking in.

“Did she abandon you?”

“She wanted to listen to the radio.”

“Sweet. C’mon in, then.”

On Trudy Parr’s desk was a telephone, a blotter and an appointment book. Also, two glasses, an ashtray and a bottle of Smirnoff. Dench sat down opposite her, and filled each glass half full.

“You wanna talk?” he said

“I spoke to Dracul tonight. That might be enough.”

“What he have to say?”

“Too much,” Trudy said.

“Yeah, well he’s brain cancer. You shouldn’t talk to him.”

“He knows things.”

Dench took a swallow of vodka. “What’s he know.”

“That I live in a circle, pretty much by myself. That’s what he says, anyway. And anyone who tries to get in gets killed.”

“That  ain’t half wrong.” Dench sat back in his chair.

“What’s that make me, Crispin?”

“Unique?”

“Being unique is awfully fucking lonely, sometimes.”

“Is there someone else you want to be?”

“No.” She shrugged and took a drink.

 

End of part 1