the bust

you the suicide?
says the cop
black in wish and uniform

not yet
I say

you better come with us
your psychiatrist called

oh, I say
my psychiatrist
¿the lonesome alcoholic? who
sits in the corner
nodding like a dog
on the dashboard of a vintage Chevrolet

the one with the pink noise
in the waiting room
blunt crayons
and colouring books

that must be her, says the cop

to him, I am torment
he didn’t join up
to scoop forlorn poetasters
with tricksy razor blades
and teary notes good-bye

he’s tragic, I can see
his head imbued with
procedure, heartache
and internet porn
his state granted gun and
the power of arrest

he’s heard of jazz and
thinks it’s the blues

he has parcels coming UPS

and yet
I am to go with him
in the backseat as though
he is the chauffeur
and I am the fiery fine King
of Tuesday Afternoon


Aunt Sparky’s 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air

I was seven years old when this happened, so you can imagine my pride and my shame.

* * * * *

My Aunt Sparky, whose real name was Ophelia Florence Iglehart, but who everyone called Sparky for obvious reasons, never made a left hand turn in her life.

Okay, that’s not quite true. She made two. One when her father, Great Uncle Regis Philip Iglehart tried to teach her how to drive, which he later described as ‘…the most frightening experience of my life, and I was in the Korean War’, and once for her driver’s test which she would have failed if the tester hadn’t passed her in exchange for her promise never to return.

So, driving with Aunt Sparky was always an adventure of right hand turns. She was aware that, where appropriate, a left hand turn would get her there faster, but the thought of willingly driving into oncoming traffic terrified her. And that was fine in the end, on account of Aunt Sparky having been left a large inheritance by her dead boyfriend, Spike Willburley, who was really named Felix, but who everyone called Spike for obvious reasons, and since she was therefore set for life, if she didn’t spend her dough like a sailor, she had the time to travel via right hand turns wherever she went.

It was all good until the summer of 1968, when she bought a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air with over 150,000 miles on the odometer. It was a flat pale green that may have been in style at some point in automotive history, but was dreary in comparison to the day-glow colours flowering round us that year. It had no hubcaps, the interior was in tatters and the windshield was cracked. But she called it a classic rather than second hand, and no one bothered correcting her.

I had time on my hands that summer. Both of my parents worked and I was on vacation. So, I went everywhere with Aunt Sparky. She’d pick me up in the morning, and we’d go on a right hand turn mystery tour round the city. To make it sound like even more of an adventure, she’d say that she was kidnapping me, with a wink and a secret smile. We’d go to Whitespot for lunch, and I’d have a cheese burger with fries, and she’d have cheese cake, coffee and a cigarette. It was a weirdly blissful arrangement for a seven year old kid. No one ever interfered, saying I should be playing baseball or be at camp. It was just me, Aunt Sparky and the Bel Air, and I loved it.

So, I’ve mentioned the overall less than showroom condition of my Aunt Sparky’s 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air. But there was one more feature peculiar to its state of disrepair, the one that caused all the trouble that year: the car horn sounded every time the steering wheel was turned to the right. This was annoying, of course, considering the sheer number of times Aunt Sparky turned the wheel to the right. And it wasn’t long before she brought the car into Rufus’ Service Station on Nanaimo Street. Rufus assessed the problem himself, because he was sweet on her, said Aunt Sparky. He examined the wiring in the steering column for a full ten minutes. Then stepped out of the car, sucked his teeth and announced with profundity and severity, that it was a fuse.

Replacing the fuse would cost five dollars, including labour. Apparently Rufus wasn’t as sweet on Aunt Sparky as she thought. She gave it deliberate consideration, then and there. Five dollars in 1968 was a lot of money. Gasoline, all by itself, was thirty-five cents a gallon! Never mind the cost of groceries, shopping out of the Sears catalogue and Whitespot meals. What was a girl to do in such hyperinflationary circumstances?

She finally said no to Rufus’ terms, and we drove away, making a horn-tooting right hand turn out of the station and back onto Nanaimo Street. The Beatles were on the radio, and all remained well with the world.

In fact, the sounding of the horn while turning right became a sort of friend, something familiar, something I could trust. It never failed us; it was always there.

And the horn was there, one sunny morning in July, as we drove through downtown Vancouver on our way to Stanley Park. Aunt Sparky had brought along a large bag of thin chocolate coated cookies, and we feasted, while listening to the Doors and Otis Redding on CKLG. At the corner of Granville and Georgia Streets, Aunt Sparky turned right. The horn sounded as usual, and we found ourselves in a traffic jam.

“Jumper on the damn bridge again,” Aunt Sparky grumbled.

Now, once upon a time in Vancouver, there was a cop on nearly every street corner. They’d stand there twiddling their thumbs and looking officious, torn between dreams of heroic deeds and hoping their shifts went off without having to give sweaty chase. And on that sunny July morning, a cop stood at the corner of Granville and Georgia Streets. We’d just passed him by as we turned right, immediately getting stuck in the traffic jam. The Bel Air’s horn had sounded, and the cop thought he was being beckoned. He stepped off the curb and went round to Aunt Sparky’s window.

“Yes, ma’am?” he said, touching his thumb and index finger to the peak of his cap. “How may I help?

“Help?” said Aunt Sparky. I watched, ate more cookies, and sipped a Coke. I was a great fan of the sugar rush.

“Yes, ma’am,” said the cop, “you honked your horn as you passed me by.”

“I never did,” said Aunt Sparky, by which she meant that she hadn’t intentionally honked her horn.

“But you did,” said the cop.

“Look,” said Aunt Sparky, remembering the Detroit Riots from the year before. “I’ll report any police brutality to my Member of Parliament.”

The traffic was now moving ahead of us. The driver in a car behind us honked his horn.

“But you sounded your horn as though you wanted my attention,” said the cop.

“Again I say, I never did.”

The cop looked past Aunt Sparky to me, sitting there with a chocolate stained face and sugar crazed eyes.

“This your boy?” he said.

“Certainly not,” said Aunt Sparky.

“Whose, then?”

“Alright, mister,” said Aunt Sparky, who’d never responded well to authority, “the traffic’s moving ahead of me, and I’m holding up the traffic behind. It’s time I moved on.”

“Pull it over,” said the cop, “and step out of the car.”

“I will not. I’m a citizen and a tax payer, going to Stanley Park for a picnic. We’re having fish and chips.”

This was the first I’d heard about fish and chips. This was getting exciting.

“Is that why you kidnapped me this morning?” I said, hungrily.

“That’s right,” said Aunt Sparky.

“Kidnapped?” said the cop.

“Oh just shoo,” Aunt Sparky said, “you tiresome little man.” And then she drove away.

I looked back, over the seat. The cop stood there for a moment, fists clenched, and then ran into the crowd on the sidewalk. He disappeared there, and I was glad. He was boring for a cop. Mod Squad was better.

It didn’t take long before a big black Ford began tailing Aunt Sparky. The traffic on Georgia was increasing in speed. Aunt Sparky said the black Ford was tailgating. I looked over the back of the seat again and saw a man in the passenger seat waving madly, as if he wanted us to pull over. Aunt Sparky accelerated instead. The Ford spat out a brief siren sound.

“Why don’t they pass, if they want by?” she said.

“It’s the police,” I said. “Maybe they want us to pull over.”

“Don’t be silly.” She accelerated again. She was now going forty miles an hour, and the needle on the speedometer was moving up on the dial. “We’ll just put some distance between us and them, so they can pursue whoever they’re after without hindrance.”

The Ford was catching up. Its siren was on full now, and there was a red light flashing on the dashboard.

“Fiddle sticks,” Aunt Sparky said. “We’ll just have to get out of their way to let them pass.” She turned a hard right onto Cardero Street. The horn honked and the police Ford followed. “Oh darn, looks like we’re headed in the same direction as them.”

She turned right onto Bayshore Drive, and then right onto Nicola Street, honk! honk! The police Ford followed, but now there were some black and white police cars following it.

“Maybe they really do want us,” I said, despondent, coming down from my sugar high.

“They’re after criminals, honey. Just sit down and think of what a good story you’ll have to tell tonight when you get home.”

“But there’re three of them now.”

“Well we’ll have to turn on Robson to get out of their way.” She did, honk!

We were approaching Cardero Street again, and there were police cars there, blocking the road.

“Oh now what?” she said. “Something really big must be happening.”

She assessed the approaching roadblock and decided she could just make it. Turning right onto Cardero again, honk!, she went up onto the corner and squeezed past a black and white cruiser. Then it was right onto Alberni, honk!; right onto Jervis, honk!; right onto Haro, honk!; right onto Broughton, honk!

Disappointingly, we never did have the fish and chip picnic in the park. Some smart cop realised Aunt Sparky was going in a circle, making only right hand turns, and set up another roadblock in the middle of Nicola. They stopped us with guns drawn. Aunt Sparky protested that it was all too much as they cuffed her, and I was handed over to a Social Worker named Gladys, who had big ears and smelled like bug spray.

Aunt Sparky appeared in court the next day, and was fined $250 for reckless driving and failure to stop for the police. When the judge said she was indifferent and disregardful of consequence, she attempted to stand and defend herself. Her lawyer pulled her back into her seat by the back of her dress.

That September, she appeared with me at show and tell. Everyone said it was the best one that year. At recess, they all got to see Aunt Sparky’s 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air. Regretfully, though, by then Aunt Sparky had shelled out, and Rufus had replaced the fuse.

snow angels

based on actual events – you don’t know these people

Christmas 1968

Glen walks across the centre of his backyard, using his footprints to mark a boundary in the fresh snow. On one side of the line, we can build snowmen and throw snow balls. But the other side is a no-man’s land. Glen has an inimitable aesthetic sense, even at seven years old.

“Just look at it,” he says, observing the elegant rolling shades of white he’s persevered. He stares for long minutes at a time. And I stare at him staring, wondering what the hell he sees. Then he says, “It’s beautiful.”

It’s a lesson in beauty, simplicity and fragility that I wrongly presume my friend is too young to teach and I am too young to learn. We’re kids in the east end of Vancouver, where it snows only occasionally. Where beauty is uncommon.

Christmas, 1981 

I was sharing a house in east Vancouver with a couple of dealers and whoever else happened along. I too had tried dealing drugs to make a living, but the police were far too annoying. They never went so far as to arrest me. Maybe I was smarter than them or maybe I was such a pathetic lightweight that they just couldn’t be bothered. Whatever the case, the east Vancouver cops contented themselves with butting-in on me in the strangest places and at the strangest times to ask how I was doing, how business was and what the hot sellers were. I got sick of this eventually and got a real job.

I landed a job as a cook at the Amorous Oyster Restaurant on Burrard Street. The Oyster may have deserved its reputation, but I couldn’t see why. Seafood is easy to cook. Many of the side dishes, condiments and add-ons were more difficult. But the only real tricks to seafood are freshness and timing. And my timing was pretty good.

In other à la Carte restaurants I’d worked in, I’d been surrounded by other cooks, a chef and floor managers, all of whom lived to make my life a misery. But I was a solo act at The Oyster. It was not only a source of income, but also a source of praise from the grateful owners. My ego swelled. And when I walked out at the end of my shift that Christmas Eve, I left with the gift of two bottles of wine and an envelope filled with crispy tens and twenties as a bonus for all of my “marvellous work”.  Out on the street, I looked in the envelope and sniffed. I was too full of myself to appreciate what that amount of money meant to the owners of a restaurant verging on both greatness and oblivion. So, I stood audaciously out front of the darkened premises and waited for my ride.

My ride was Gabriel. We’d been dating for about six months. She was a sadder smarter sort of girl, smarter than me. She wrote poetry and painted, had a growing collection of tattoos and read hefty books. She was also prone to long difficult silences. It was all in her eyes, I knew, and sometimes what I saw in her eyes frightened me.

She arrived that night, navigating the snowy street like a pro, in her ’78 Mustang Cobra. It was an outrageously overpowered vehicle with its huge V8 engine, four on the floor and various racing accoutrements. When we first met, I asked whatever inspired her to buy such a car. “It’s cute,” she’d said. “Ah,” I replied, as though her response to my question answered all the other questions I might have to ask her in the future.

Now she was driving me home for a Christmas Eve together, hopefully without the chemically addicted rabble we normally found there. They bored the hell out of me and they resented me for it, but I had the house’s huge master bedroom to myself where I could escape the inane and the insane.

Soon we were driving down the back alley where the house stood. It was built behind a row of storefronts on East Hastings, which made it barely visible from the main street. I’d hoped, when first renting the place, that this would keep me off of the cop radar. It didn’t. But for me the police were becoming less and less of a problem as I cultivated a new image as fully employed citizen at large. In spite of that, though, to a significant degree, the police still considered me connected to the drug scene.

“What the hell’s all that,” Gabriel said pointing to my house half a block away. There were half a dozen police cars in the lane.

“Shit,” I said. “Keep driving.”

But she didn’t. Instead she backed up into an empty driveway and turned out in the opposite direction. “They know my car,” she said. “They would have stopped us. Where do we go now?”

“Toby’s,” I said. “But park a block away.”

Toby was a burned-out vegetarian 12 stepper. This made him a serious bummer. But he knew what was going on in the neighbourhood and he did one important thing that I never did, he listened to a police scanner.

We left the car in an abandoned garage and walked through the deepening snow to Toby’s basement suite. We knocked and Toby greeted us at the door. Agnes, his off and on common law, sat at a table in the kitchen cutting thick slabs of Christmas cake then dividing each slab into smaller pieces.

“Come in, man,” Toby said. “It’s freezing out there.” We did. “Sorry to hear about Sammy, man. I know he was your best friend, and all. There’s some bad shit happening tonight. Happy Christmas, by the way. You want some Christmas cake?”

“What bad shit?” I said, accepting a piece of Christmas cake. “What happened to Sammy?”

“I can’t eat it,” Toby said of the cake. “The wife puts rum in it.” It did smell of rum, the alcohol long baked off. It was damn fine Christmas cake. Toby thought a moment and then he said, “News is that the cops shot Sammy in your house tonight, dude. Radio says he came at them with a knife. Sammy’s a big boy,” Toby went on. “If he came at me with a knife, maybe I’d shoot him too.”

“Better not to have a gun,” Agnes said as she cut the Christmas cake. Gabriel was helping her now. I found out later that it was going to some of the homeless shelters the next day.

“I ain’t got no gun, my love,” Toby hummed. It was how he spoke to Agnes, almost like a song.  “Just saying ‘if’.”

“Is he alive?” I said. Sammy was a friend and roommate. He’d been doing some weird shit lately, all chemicals cooked up in a basement somewhere by amateurs.

“At first the radio said he was alive,” Toby said. ”But then it said he wasn’t. Said he was DOA. Either way, it’s fucked up for you, man. They’re going through your stuff right now, you bet.”

I wasn’t betting on anything. Gabriel looked at me from the table where they were preparing the Christmas cake; they were wrapping it now and tying ribbons around each piece. I caught her gaze. Maybe there was a poem in this for her. But it was clear that she understood how profoundly my life had just changed. Whether I ever retuned to the house or not, they’d get me. There were caches of dugs and money stashed all through the place. None of it was mine, but the cops didn’t care. They’d harass my family, friends and anybody I’d ever said hello to until they got their mitts on me.

Gabriel said, “Let’s go for a ride. There’s something I want to show you.”

“That’s a good idea,” Toby said. “Cops will be here looking for you pretty soon.”

“I’m sorry for this,” I said, knowing the police would grill him.

“Ain’t your fault, man. It’s a wicked fucking world. Besides, let the cops come. Sometimes it’s better to not just being a spectator.”

I took a couple more pieces of cake and headed for the door. Agnes and Gabriel hugged, and Gabriel followed me out. When the door closed behind us, I felt the disconnection. Among other things in that moment, I had a feeling that this would be it for me and Gabriel. She wouldn’t stay with me after tonight. Guns and knife play weren’t the domain of 18 year old poets.

By the time we got to the car, I’d begun wondering about what she had up her sleeve, how it could help me deal with the situation at hand. “Get in the car,” she said.

We drove north on nameless streets. Eventually, Gabriel pulled over next to an endless field of perfect snow.

“It’s stopped,” she said, looking through the windshield. Then she said, “Recognise this place?”

I didn’t and shook my head. But I continued to look out of the car at the perfectly flat, unblemished field of snow. It reminded me of something from a long time ago.

“I know,” she said. “It looks different in the snow. C’mon, let’s get out.”

She got out of the car and I followed. In a moment we stood surrounded by acres of undisturbed snow, illuminated by blue mercury vapour light. It was the east Vancouver reservoir. The snow was lying on a flat expanse concrete beneath. I looked around me. For a minute I stopped thinking of Sammy, dead and cold on Christmas Eve. And I realised that a childhood friend of mine would have truly appreciated this this vision.

“Look,” I heard Gabriel shout. She was lying in the snow now, moving her arms and legs, creating a snow angel. Then she stood and jumped up and down twice, knocking the dry snow off of her clothes. She lay back down again and created a second angel. She stood up again and jumped to remove the snow from her clothes.

“See,” she said. “Angels. Snow Angels, two of them. One for you and one for me. I left other Christmas gifts for you back at your place, but I guess they’re gone for good now.” She looked at her watch, “And it’s a quarter past midnight. Merry Christmas!”

I looked at the snow angels and smiled. Did tears well up in my eyes? Did I feel small and ashamed, glorious and happy beyond belief? Did I see in my mind’s eye a band of honest-to-goodness angels descending to collect Sammy and take him home? Yes to all of the above.

And did I see Gabriel, in a future that awaited her, strong and determined, hopeful, brilliant and gentle? Yes. And was I there with her?

Ha! I knew better than that.

It began to snow again, and we sat on the edge of the Mustang’s hood. I opened one of the bottles of wine from the Amorous Oyster. We had no glasses, so I took a drink from the bottle. I offered it to Gabriel. She took a drink but turned the bottle down when I offered it to her a second time. Instead, she poured a swallow onto the ground for Sammy. It was dark and red like a bullet wound in the snow.

As the snow continued to fall, Gabriel’s snow angels disappeared. They were frail things, destined to disappear. But I knew that beneath the perfect layer of snow in front of us, there could have been millions of them.

in the land of splendid umbrellas

In the Land of Splendid Umbrellas, they welcomed the rain. When it fell, it gave them reason. Nearly everyone had his or her own splendid umbrella and they lived to flaunt them. It was considered a citizen’s duty. Spontaneously, and wherever possible throughout the land, they’d form proud processions in a downpour. They’d move slowly and with a grand rhythmic fluidity, an assembly of vibrantly colourful canopies flowing with the citizenry inconsequential beneath. Miles long pageants here and there, each rolling harmoniously. Seas of rich and vivid bobbing amid the glistening rainy-grey gradients. It was a diamond conceit of a golden prosperity.

But not everyone could or would own a splendid umbrella. There were those women, men and children who, living in vile poverty, were forced to make do with only drab umbrellas or no umbrellas at all. They sat on wet curbs, with chins in their hands, watching the rain induced processions of splendid umbrellas passing them by, wishing ever so strongly that they could join in but knowing the drabness of their dime store umbrellas excluded them completely.

There were also those who refused to conform to the prideful vanity of the multitude and would not own any umbrella at all. They heaped derision on the snooty majority of splendid umbrella bearing citizens and called them fools for being taken in by those who were made wealthy through the sale of splendid umbrellas. These nonconformists were people assumed to hold extremist views and were considered a rabble on the fringe. And among them was a certain Mr Balthazar Strange.

Mr Balthazar Strange was an old and crooked man. But his was a crookedness earned through honest hard work, not imposed by outrageous nature. He was a stone artist and, for a living, artistically and meditatively stacked stones, some of them very heavy, atop of one another. He relied upon the generosity of the passing public and cranky patrons. He had frighteningly wild and uncontrollable hair and a nose that slanted slightly to the left, it having been broken in a fall from a Christmas tree in his childhood. He wore eyeglasses with tiny blue lenses and a tattered army surplus greatcoat with indecipherable regimental flashings. On his head, in a hopeless attempt to control his frighteningly wild and uncontrollable hair, he wore a formless cap that may once have been red with what might once have been a teal green coloured feather in the hat band.

But before you presume his gnarled and shabby appearance had anything to do with his distain of splendid umbrellas, or any umbrella for that matter, please read on.

In fact, Mr Balthazar Strange had once loved splendid umbrellas as much as any man. He had a dazzling collection and was unfailing in his observation of meteorological forecasts and trends.  He carefully watched the sky for rain the way a pastor diligently watches his congregation for sin and transgression. And when the rain came, he would be the first in the resulting parade of splendid umbrellas, flashing this or that splendid umbrella from his collection, to the delight of all who proceeded with him, and all who looked on from the periphery.

But irreparable change can come over a man if circumstance allows and for Mr Balthazar Strange, the circumstances did most definitely allow.

It happened in The Year of the Drought. The one that came after The Year of the Comets but before The Year of the Toad Invasion. Sadness gripped the Land of Splendid Umbrellas. By the time September rolled around, not a spot of rain had been seen anywhere. Once, in May, there was a report of possible rain in the east but it was soon found out to be a cruel rumour started by a consortium of umbrella retailers hoping to improve their seriously declining sales. When found out, they were tried, found guilty, pilloried and pelted with state approved organic compost.

Mr Balthazar Strange was sad, too. Without rain, he had no reason to exhibit his magnificent collection of splendid umbrellas. The sun shone bright day after day. And though some wondered if they might use their splendid umbrellas as parasols, no one dared to be the first to suggest it. A group of museum curators proposed a splendid umbrella museum, a place where splendid umbrellas, once so popular and so essential to the national identity, could be preserved and displayed in the most up to date environmentally controlled setting possible and thereby be made available for future generations to view and ponder over. But it was a disappointing idea that smacked of failure so it was rejected.

Eventually, November in The Year of the Drought arrived. The sun was shining brightly, as it had all year long. Mr Balthazar Strange toiled long in the quarries and on stony beaches creating stacked stone sculptures for anyone who cared to see them. There were large pointy stones placed points down and precariously balanced upon roundish plinthy egg shaped stones. Some went meters into the sky like vertical stony totems, others resembled long trains of stones, successions of perilously balanced stones that twisted and traversed the surrounding topography. They produced a palpable energising tension and altered conventional concepts of permanence. Passers-by observed and wondered and dropped coins into Mr Balthazar Strange’s once red cap.

All through that November, weather prognostications were grim with sunshine. It was to last well into the Christmas season, not even any hope of snow to set the festive mood. People in the Land of Splendid Umbrellas grieved. They wondered how processions and parades could possibly proceed without rain and the resultant spontaneous opening of their splendid umbrellas. Mr Balthazar Strange continued his stony endeavours throughout this turbulent and uncertain time until one day, while on the beach below a seawall surrounding a park, he was confronted by a park ranger standing above him on the wall.

“News rules, mate,” said the park ranger, perhaps too self-importantly.

“New rules?” said Mr Balthazar Strange; his throat was dry and his whistle needing wetting. “And what, pray, are they?”

“No more stone stacking without a license.”


“Yes, you’re earning a living from this stacking of stones, you see. People put money in your grubby little cap. So, you are running a business and a business must be licensed. Otherwise you’re just begging, aren’t you?”


“Yes and responding to everything I say with the word really will not change that in any way.”


“I am willing, however, to give you a break this one time,” said the park ranger. “But you must cease and desist your stone stacking immediately, proceed to City Hall and purchase your license.”

“And what if I do not cease and desist?” said Mr Balthazar Strange, looking up at the park ranger through his tiny blue lenses. “What if I continue in spite of you and your new and absurd law? I have patrons and my public, you know. They will rally behind me. I have the history of art successfully triumphing over the bland and artless establishment on my side. What do you have, other than your torture chambers and gulags?”

“Look, it’s only a fine.”

“Then write your ticket and I shall tear it to pieces before your very eyes.”

“Hey, lighten up. I’m not a bad chap. I’m just doing my job.”

“You’re a blunt oppressive weapon of the state,” said Mr Balthazar Strange, his hackles rising. “You, sir, are a stooge, ignorant of your true place in the family of man, persuaded by your overlords that you are their equal. But you are not. You’re a slave to the despotic and tyrannical hierarchy that dominates City Hall, a once honourable institution.”

“Alright then, mate,” said the park ranger, pulling a pad out of one the many pockets situated round his official park ranger walking shorts. “You want to make this personal? Then I guess I will write that ticket, after all.”

“Paahhh!” laughed Mr Balthazar Strange dryly. “I mock you.”

“Mock away,” said the park ranger jumping off the seawall onto the beach. “Let’s see some ID.”

Mr Balthazar Strange was aghast by this. “People know me by my art,” he said. “I am no Petite bourgeoisie; I do not carry identification.”

So, the park ranger spoke into his two way radio mic. What he said was mostly muffled but Mr Balthazar Strange distinctly heard the words we have a live one here. And in a very short time a police cruiser arrived.

The police officers exited their cruiser slowly and with bored looks on their faces. It appeared they wished to convey that, as a result of their infinite policing duties, they had already seen too much of life and may not be in the mood for more. They consulted with the park ranger for a moment and then turned to Mr Balthazar Strange. “Givin’ this fella a hard time, are you?” said one of them who looked the senior.

“If anyone’s being given a hard time here,” said Mr Balthazar Strange, “it’s me.”

“You have a license to stack those stones?”

“Of course not,” said Mr Balthazar Strange. “Did Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci require a license? Did Vincent Willem van Gogh require one? Did Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech? Of course I don’t have a license and why should I?”

“Let’s see some ID.”

“I have none and if I did I certainly wouldn’t show it to you.”

Now the senior officer spoke into his two way radio mic and, among other things, he said the words mental male.

“What?” said Mr Balthazar Strange. “Mental male?”

“Right Rembrandt,” said the officer now off his mic, “hands behind your back.”

“I will not,” said Mr Balthazar Strange and stood his ground.

The two officers didn’t wait. They moved in and tackled Mr Balthazar Strange. They wrestled him to the sandy ground in his tattered army surplus greatcoat with indecipherable regimental flashings. But Mr Balthazar Strange fought back valiantly, spitting and swearing. As it turned out, a life of artfully and meditatively placing one stone atop of another had made him very strong, indeed, and a worthy opponent. It took the two officers several minutes to finally subdue and handcuff Mr Balthazar Strange.

But this was not all that made this a singular day. For when the officers stood up, cursing and brushing sand and tiny bits of flotsam off of their uniforms, the park ranger excitedly yelled, “Look.” And he pointed to the west where a bank of low cloud had suddenly appeared. There was clearly a slanted torrent of rain falling two to five miles offshore and rapidly heading in toward land.

“Right,” said the officer who had not yet spoken, bending down and picking up Mr Balthazar Strange by the arm. “Let’s get this miscreant in to headquarters.”

Mr Balthazar Strange was placed in the back of the cruiser but not before making the complaint, “But wait! The rain is coming! If you take me in now, I’ll miss it. I’ll miss my first opportunity in nearly a year to join in on a procession of splendid umbrellas.”

“You should have thought of that before,” said one of the officers and closed the cruiser door on Mr Balthazar Strange.

It turned out to be the only three and a half days of rain that year. And the drought lasted several months into the year that followed. It was fortunate for many, as it was a Friday when the rain began; it was the weekend. And since it appeared to forecasters that the rain might last until Monday night, a national holiday was declared making it a long weekend.

Almost the entire population of the Land of Splendid Umbrellas enjoyed the long weekend. But Mr Balthazar Strange sat in a windowless jail cell waiting to stand before a judge. And since it was late on a Friday before he was squared away, and because judges don’t work weekends, he waited the whole of Saturday and Sunday and the add-on Monday, as well. All across the Land of Splendid Umbrellas there were spontaneous and joyful parades, processions and pageants of people displaying their splendid umbrellas. There were celebrations, carnivals and mass merriment. And this all took place everywhere except in the jail cell where Mr Balthazar Strange sat.

On Tuesday morning, Mr Balthazar Strange stood before a judge and was convicted of artfully and meditatively stacking stones without a license, resisting arrest and broadcasting generally wearisome bombast in a public place. But since he had missed the only rain of the year and, as a result, missed the one and only occasion to flaunt one or more of his splendid umbrellas, his long weekend in jail was considered punishment enough and the judge sentenced Mr Balthazar Strange to time served.

Mr Balthazar Strange was embittered, nonetheless. The state had imprisoned him and held him unjustly while the entire nation celebrated. As he languished, his splendid umbrellas sat in his rooming house room undisplayed and unenjoyed. So, upon arriving home from court, he gathered his entire collection of splendid umbrellas and placed them in the thrash. Whether they were taken away with the rest of the rooming house garbage or pilfered by locals and passers-by, he never knew or cared to know.

In time he became a cynic and an illicit unlicensed stacker of stones. His work remained artful, meditative and relevant but it was done in the dark of night or in the weakly lit hours of dawn when police and park rangers were either in bed or securely installed in doughnut shops.

The clandestine nature of Mr Balthazar Strange’s work seemed to make it more popular than ever. But one day, no one can say which, it ended and the rent on Mr Balthazar Strange’s rooming house room stopped being paid. He was somehow gone from the world. And because stones stacked artfully and meditatively never stay that way for long, no record of the existence of Mr Balthazar Strange remains.

the Vancouver mother riot

Vancouver 1969

It was a long time ago so I don’t expect you to remember. It happened on a Saturday in the autumn of ’69 and began with the Broadway 9 incident. The Broadway 9 was a Brill trolley bus that brought down the electrical trolley lines from above and let them lay across and around it as though it wanted to end its own existence, and the existence of all who rode her.

It happened right out front of my house. The neighbourhood watched as the riders and the operator sat statue stiff so as not to touch the metal inside, waiting for rescue. Stay away, someone’s mother called frantically, out in her curlers and floral apron. A tea-towel in her worried, wringing hands. How could such a thing happen? It was better than TV. Oh, the anguish of those men and women in their hats, overcoats and 1960s sensible shoes. Their technological tomorrow-today viciously turning against them, appointments missed and promises broken.

The fire trucks were slow as parade floats. We heard their sirens for five minutes before they arrived. On arrival, the firemen dashed and hurried, then stopped and stared. There was no fire, only an unsolvable equation of distraught faces behind glass. I believed the bus would have to remain there forever, as the occupants aged and perished or succumbed to cannibalism. No one could touch the snapping, sparking lines or the bus that lay beneath them.

Word was that Broadway had been blocked off by police barricades. Traffic on the busy street was being rerouted, much to the annoyance of exasperated drivers.

I was eight years old and I crouched next to a newsstand to watch. A traffic cop on a Harley pulled up to the curb and gave me a smile as he dismounted and removed his gauntlet gloves.

“Bit of excitement, eh?” he said.

I shrugged, as was my habit then. I was close to the ground, surrounded by cigarette butts and candy wrappers. I looked at the toes of his polished boots. The reflection was a blurred and blackened spherical rendering of me. Then I looked up and saw his gun belt and the sunglasses he wore. He removed his helmet and his thinning Brylcreem hair remained still and in place despite the wind.

By then, a BC Hydro crew had arrived. They, along with the Fire Department, formed a huddle in the middle of the roadway. They consulted with the traffic cop. They all nodded and laughed and slapped one another on the back as the trapped occupants of the Broadway 9 look on helplessly.

Then, as the fallen trolley wires continued to arc and snap, a frail old woman on the bus stood up and called out of her open window, “Hey, you men. It’s 2:15 p.m. When are you going to do something to get us off of this bus? My kitty is home alone.”

The traffic cop walked over and talked to her. It was a brief exchange and at the end of it, the frail old woman slammed her cane against her window. She remained standing and turned to address the other Broadway 9 occupants. She was excitedly telling them what the traffic cop had told her, waving her cane in the air and pointing out the window. In a moment, the entire population of the Broadway 9 was on its feet, yelling out of their windows while the bus driver stood to try to restore order.

“Hey, you can’t talk to an old lady like that,” one yelled.

“You men get to work or I’ll contact your superiors,” yelled another.

“My ice cream has melted completely,” yelled an elderly World War 1 veteran, though not very loudly.

The huddle of firemen, BC Hydro workers and the traffic cop laughed louder and waved off the stranded occupants of the Broadway 9. They brought out cigarettes and cigars and began to smoke as a worksite catering truck arrived and commenced selling them coffee and tuna fish and egg salad sandwiches.

Shortly after that, two cars arrived. They were shiny, deluxe models. One sporting the seal of the Vancouver Fire Department; the other, that of the Vancouver Police Department. It was the Fire and Police Chiefs. They joined the huddle and began to smoke and laugh. The Fire Chief bought an egg salad sandwich from the catering truck and chewed heartily between eggy guffaws.

Not long after the press arrived, Mayor Tom Campbell pulled up in his chauffer driven limousine. His driver got out and opened the Mayor’s door. Tom Campbell emerged wearing a snazzy suit under an equally snazzy overcoat. His shoes were even shinier than the traffic cop’s boots. His limousine driver joined him in the huddle of Chiefs, firemen, hydro workers, the traffic cop and reporters with a thermos bottle and a china cup and saucer. The driver poured out whatever liquid was in the thermos for the Mayor and the Mayor drank, smoked and laughed along with others.

“This is outrageous,” shouted the elderly World War 1 veteran from his open window, though not very loudly. “I was in the Second Battle of Ypres. I lost my spleen there, and now all I have to show for it is melted ice cream.”

It was at about this time that my mother came down to the curb and stood next to me. She’d been watching from the porch, hair in curlers and wearing a floral housedress and bedroom slippers.

“What’s up?” she said. “This is sure going nowhere fast.”

I remained crouched and shrugged.

“It all better be cleaned up before your father comes home and wants to park in the garage.” She looked at her Timex. “He’ll be home in a few hours.”

Once again, I shrugged.

“Those people on board don’t look very happy,” she said.

“Someone’s ice cream melted,” I said, deciding then against more shrugging.

“And I bet they need a toilet break, too,” said my mother, who was always more practical than me.

Now the Mayor was telling a joke. I could tell by how the men in the huddle had gone silent and hung on each of his words. He gesticulated extravagantly as his eyes rolled in his head for emphasis. Then he went silent for a beat and delivered the punch line. The men in the huddle started laughing and couldn’t stop. They convulsed and bent over, their guts aching from the arduous abdominal workout. The Mayor stood there triumphantly, surrounded by his wowed audience. The laughing continued for a minute or two more and then one of the men stood up straight and began to clap his hands. The others began to do the same. Soon they were all applauding. A few of them shouted, bravo! bravo! Others shouted, more! more! But Mayor Tom Campbell had told his one and only joke for the day. He held up his hands and shook his head. No, no, no, he humbly said.

The people trapped on the Broadway 9 were now livid. A previously docile housewife, on board, picked up a bottle of dill pickles from her grocery bag and threw it through her open window. The bottle landed on the pavement, exploded and deposited dill pickles, juice and shrapnel onto the shoes, boots and pant cuffs of the men in the huddle.

“Well,” said the Mayor, “that’s it for me.” He returned to his limousine with his driver and they drove away.

“Okay,” said the traffic cop, looking up at the faces of the Broadway 9 occupants, each being careful not to touch anything metal. “Which one of you mugs threw the pickles?”

“I’d throw a grenade, if I could,” said the World War 1 veteran. “I love my ice cream.”

“I’d throw the lot of you off a cliff, given a chance,” said someone else.

“You call yourselves public servants?” my mother yelled from the curb. I looked up at her. This was unexpected.

Another of the local mothers joined mine and yelled, “You’re useless as the tits on a bull, you are!” This was a favourite of local mothers.

“Better be careful with that,” the traffic cop said, pulling a nightstick from his belt and pointing it.

“Or what?” my mother said with a laugh. “You’re gonna round us up and put us in the hoosegow? Us with children to feed and husbands coming home from work? Just because we’re pointing out the obvious, that you’re an ineffectual bunch of overpriced lollygaggers?”

“That’ll do,” the cop told my mother.

Now there were dozens of neighbourhood mothers backing up my mother. Where had they all come from? It was a sea of curlers, floral housedresses and bedroom slippers.

“Screw you, porky,” said someone behind my mother. I recognised it as the voice of shy Mrs Jensen from a few doors down. The women around her began to grumble in agreement.

The traffic cop began to walk toward his motorcycle. Suspecting that he might be calling in reinforcements, one of the mothers cut his two-way radio microphone cord with a pair of poultry scissors she had concealed in her butterfly-print apron.

“Hey,” said the traffic cop. “That’s city property. I’m afraid it’s ticket time, ladies.”

As the traffic cop reached around and grabbed the citation pad from his belt, my mother yelled, “Let’s get him, girls.”

The trolley lines continued to jump and spark as a wall of east end mothers attacked. The cop and the huddle of men stood stunned as the women quickly approached. The women used rolling pins and broom handles to beat the men down.

“Not laughing now, are you?” yelled the World War 1 veteran, but not too loudly.

The people on the bus watched as more and more of the neighbourhood mothers and housewives emerged from their homes to join the fray. There were hundreds of them now. It was a full-on riot and after rescuing the occupants of the Broadway 9, the riot progressed across the city. A vast onslaught of feminine humanity filling the streets. Thousands of mothers and housewives smashing shop windows, looting and setting fire to automobiles – but being very careful so as not to make too much of a mess.

Soon they were ten thousand and they rushed City Hall. The Mayor looked down on them from his top floor office.

“Where are the police,” he said. “I’ll read the Riot Act. I’ll have the police break their heads.”

“The police aren’t answering the phone,” said an aide. “Seems they have mothers of their own in that crowd out there. And there’s a contingent of equally incensed grandmothers on their way. We have your limousine waiting in the underground parking but it’s unlikely you’d make it through the throng alive.”

“Then what shall I do?”

Eventually, after several distressed telephone calls, the army dispatched a helicopter and retrieved Tom Campbell from the roof of Vancouver City Hall.

In a press briefing later, he praised the mothers, grandmother and the women of Vancouver in general as great defenders of human rights. And since an election is always just around the corner, he promised the women of Vancouver greater privileges and more flowers in public spaces.

On Monday, I returned to school and everyone was talking about the Vancouver Mother Riot. One kid came over to me at the swings and said, “It was your mom. She started it, didn’t she?”

I shrugged and was soon surrounded by a mass of adoring classmates.

Lunch that day was a peanut butter and apple jelly sandwich followed by nice piece of chocolate cake.