lost ironies

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Tag: Vancouver

Pride

this poem may not happen today, just
look at the sky
the province is burning from the inside out the
sun on the sidewalk is orange from the smoke
even in this town so close to the edge

so close that people trip over it
(the edge that is)
routinely and fall forever
waving good-bye as they go “Good-
bye, falling into oblivion was the least I could do.”

it’s a Saturday in August­
it’s Pride and fireworks
thousands of people in the park, waiting
there are horse cops in the neighbourhood
and cops on Denman with assault rifles
(very unCanadian)

don’t piss spit puke or shit in the backseat of my cruiser
that’s how the cops spoke to us
when we were kids and hung out in the projects
there’s probably still a bag of acid
hidden there beneath a hedge

Gay Pride and fireworks an
F-18 just flew over, low
so we all could feel the thrust

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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summer poem

summer surprised us
yes it did, TS.E
with anfractuous parades
& the popping rhyme of fireworks
wishing for the relief
of half abandoned winter
in my neighbourhood by the beach
& me wishing all of the time
for a first time perhaps
a tow truck flummoxing
double parked UFO
or the moon’s green cheese
& Water Table Crackers
with a beer by the bonfire
ever watchful for the Jabberwock
escaping the fires
to the east

 

 

 

Merry Christmas Lucas Quil

1923

Quil was a calm man, though some said cruel in appearance, who watched the world through dark eyes that decrypted all he saw without astonishment or sympathy. And though prone to hatred and a grim violence, he baffled those who knew him by his introspection and apparent pining for a mysterious lost heart. Indeed, he was the conundrum in his own mirror, where, of late, he seemed to have become increasingly transparent.

Having boarded in Toronto, he now disembarked from the CPR Transcontinental at its Vancouver Waterfront terminus, stepping into a steam dragon on the platform. There, he checked his pocket watch, nearly 8pm and cold. Pulling up the collar of his wool coat, and with his suitcase in hand, he climbed the stairs from the platform, and walked through the station. Light snow was falling on Cordova Street, silhouetted against the yellow light of streetlamps, as he exited. It was Christmas Eve. He hailed a cab.

Taking the backseat of the taxi, he felt the butt of the vicious little gun he carried in his belt, against his waist. Trying to ignore it, he said, “Yale Hotel,” to the driver.

“Just got into town, eh?” The cabby was looking at Quil in the rear view mirror, observing a man in an expensive coat and hat. The suitcase, he noticed, was fine leather, a pricy item.

“Good guess,” Quil said, “since you picked me up out front of a train station with a suitcase in my hand.”

“Well,” said the cabby, “I just wanted to worn you, that’s all. The Yale’s a bit of a dump. We got better in this burg.”

“And yet the Yale is where I want to go.”

“Swell,” said the man at the wheel. Then he said, “By the way, mister, this can be a very lonely town. I can get you ladies, or, you know, whatever’s yer fancy.” He turned and offered Quil his card. Quil didn’t take it, and they drove on.

The furniture in the shadowy Yale Hotel lobby consisted of worn velvet and cracked leather sofas and chairs. An elderly man listed to the left as he snored on a once grand chesterfield. A dilapidated piano stood in a corner, and the chandelier had lost many of its crystals.

The clerk behind the counter was an untidy man with yellow teeth and nicotine stained fingers. Quil gave him his name, and the man lazily scratched it into the leger with a fountain pen, writing Quill with two Ls.

“It’s one L,” Quil said.

“That so?” said the clerk, annoyed, scratching out Quill, and saying out loud, “Mr Lucas Quil,” as he wrote with a faux flourish. “Esquire. One. L.” Then, looking up smugly, he noticed a certain change in the quality Quil’s posture, and immediately regretted his little drama. “Sorry,” he said, nervously. “I’m a little tired. My relief hasn’t shown yet. I’m beat, but it means I might be here all night.”

“Just get me the key to my room,” Quil said. “And I’m looking for a Miss Lilith Drakos. I understand that she has a room here.”

Now the clerk grinned a dirty little grin. “If there’s a guest here by that name,” he said, “I can deliver a message.”

“There is no message,” Quil said, conjuring a ten-dollar bill out of the air, as though it were fruit from an invisible tree. “I want to know what room she’s in.” He held the bill under the clerk’s nose, as the shabby little man licked his lips.

“Preserving our guests’ privacy is important to us,” said the clerk. Then he took the bill, and inspected it. “That was a clever trick,” he said.

“I’ve another trick,” Quil said. “One I do with a straight razor, in the dark of night.” There was nothing minacious in his tone. It was a simple statement of fact. The clerk believed it.

“#205,” he said, anxiously pocketing the cash. “The woman you’re looking for’s in #205. I’ll put you in #207, if that’s agreeable.” He held out a battered skeleton key.

“Fine,” Quil said, taking it.

“That’ll be a dollar for the night,” said the clerk.

Quil said nothing. During the transaction, he’d unbuttoned his coat to reveal the revolver in his belt.

“Ah yes,” the clerk said sheepishly, eyeing the butt of the gun. He patted his pocket where the ten dollar bill now nestled. “Shall I’ll take up your suitcase for you.”

“I’ll carry it up myself.”

“A pleasure to have you, sir. Just shout if you need anything.”

Quil climbed the staircase, stopping a moment outside of #207. There was the faint scent of fresh sandalwood from inside, bringing back memories of an unhurried time of jazz, and a passion too dear to last. He lingered and listened, and then moved on.

His room was stale. An exposed electrical wire ran up the wall, and was strung across the ceiling to where it connected to a bare light bulb. The drapes hung loose and dustily from a rod over the window. The bed linen wasn’t fresh, but he didn’t care. He wouldn’t sleep. He sat on a kitchen chair looking out onto the street until shortly after dawn, Christmas morning, then decided to leave for breakfast.

Surprised at seeing the man leave the building from her window, she donned her coat and went to the lobby, stepping out when she was sure that he’d moved on, and following him to the Aristocratic Cafe. There, she waited on the sidewalk until he was seated, then entered unseen, taking a booth in the back.

Lilith Drakos was a pale, slender woman in a bland flower print dress and a second hand coat, purposely drab in hopes of moving through the world unnoticed. A chill ran through her as she watched Quil at his table, drinking his coffee and reading a newspaper. He was exactly as she remembered him, the handsome crime boss with a hard-earned elegance that hid his beginnings and the essential cruelty that had brought him to prominence.

He was a demon, or had been—the delinquent fog that had fallen upon a city, and its underworld. A dark paint of whispers, the lips of others that had moved, but out of fear, confessed nothing. She’d met him in that place of cast shadows, of nights that had rendered the red of her lipstick black. He ate the dark; it had sustained them both. She’d seen it run wet down his chin, and in his in ruthlessness, he ruled the city. For all of that, though, in the end he’d succumbed to his greatest weaknesses, jealousy and greed.

And now he’d stalked down.

She stood, and walked to his table where she took off her coat and hung it over the vacant chair. “So,” she said, sitting down, “you’ve found me. How?”

“Hello Lilith,” he said, trying to sound pleasantly surprised, but sounding sorry for something instead. “Let me buy you breakfast.”

“No.” Quiet rage in her voice. “Answer me. How’d you find me?”

“I’ve always known where you are,” he said, putting down his newspaper. “Here, and the other places you’ve been. I’ve developed a talent for clairvoyance, since our parting. You have too, I’m sure.”

She had, but didn’t say so. “Why have you come?” she said instead.

“To apologise.” He looked at her a moment, poker-faced, before shifting his gaze onto the once vibrant red rose tattoo on her wrist. Its colour was nearly gone. Fading. The thing he’d noticed in himself, when he looked in a mirror.

“Apologise?” Lilith said. It was a broken word when he said it. “That’s rich, all things considered.” She absently placed her hand over her heart.

“Why are you dressed that way?” he said, hoping to change the subject. “You look like a dime store frump.”

“It’s how I prefer to be seen now days. It’s how I looked before you recovered me from the trash, and had me dressed up like your silky little harlot.”

“Those weren’t such bad days, were they?” said Quil. “At least you ate every day. You had money and a warm bed. You had your jewelry box filled with little golden trinkets. And there was romance, wasn’t there?”

“It’s how I chased away the poverty,” Lilith said. “It hurt going hungry, and you rescued me for some reason—a woman running errands for nickels and dimes, and sometimes selling myself for a few dollars to your torpedoes. I still don’t know what you saw in me, I was nearly ruined by the time you salvaged me, but at least you weren’t a pimp. You were mean, though. They weren’t always such happy times for me.”

“You remember it differently than me. I remember that you were young. I saw such beauty in you.”

“That sounds fake.”

“And I loved you,” he said.

She stared at his straight face. Then, “Bastard,” she said, standing and putting on her coat. She left the cafe.

It was a necessary sign of civility, simply knocking on a door to gain entry. One he’d acquired later in his career, to replace more violent or stealthy ways. Lilith’s door didn’t open immediately, though, when later that Christmas evening he knock.

“Please let me in, Lilith,” he said gently. Then quietly waited.

“No,” she replied through the door, moments later.

“I’m not going away,” he said.

“Then you can wait ’til Hell freezes over.”

“That’s just what I’ll do, then.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s Christmas.”

“What’s that have to do with it?”

“It’s a time for forgiveness,” Quil said. “God and sinner reconcile, and all of that. Get it?”

“Which of us is the sinner, in this case? You always thought you were God.”

Quil was quiet again, then said, “It’s a metaphor, Lilith. Maybe God is what passes between us, when we speak to one another. Please let me in.”

That was poetic. The door opened a crack, and she peaked out. “You’re a murderer,” she said.

“Several times over.”

“There is no forgiveness for that.”

“Then let’s just have a drink.” He held up a brown paper bag. “Bourbon,” he said. “The good stuff.”

“You’re getting easier to see through, Lucas.”

“We have that in common, don’t we,” he said.

“I ain’t been drinking lately,” she said, but invited him in.

Her room was immaculate. A small Christmas tree stood on the nightstand. The bedcover was a colourful eiderdown. There were oriental carpets on the floor, and a comfortable chair by the window.

“Please sit,” she said, and taking the bottle from him, she poured them each a drink in glasses she took from a cupboard above a small kitchen table.

Quil sat on the bed. She sat next him, handed him his drink and put the bottle on the floor next to them.

“So.” she said. “Let’s talk forgiveness.”

He gulped back his drink, and for the first time revealed the butt of a gun in his belt.

“You still carry that damn thing?” she said, with disgust.

Quil looked down at the .38 revolver in his belt.

“You brought it for old time’s sake, I guess,” she said. ”Is that it, you bastard? Memory Lane and all that?”

“No” He sighed. “It’s a curse, a small part of Hell. I can’t seem to lose it. I’ve tried. I threw it into the St Lawrence once, but there it was again the next time I looked.”

“That’s some story.” She gulped back her own drink, and poured them each another.

“Do you believe in Hell?” Quil said.

“I guess. Why the hell not?”

“We’re both easier to see-through than ever,” he said. “I guess we’re finally on our way out.”

She placed a hand over her heart, where her fatal wound was now slowly becoming visible.

“Does it still hurt?” he said.

“It never did,” said Lilith. “How could it? It happened too fast. You’re a quick draw.”

“Oh God I’m sorry.” He touched his own gruesome fatal head wound, slowly revealing itself, and then looked at his bloody fingers.

“I’ve suspected it for quite a while,” she said. “This fading of ours. We’re disappearing. It’s a symptom of having finally reached the end. It sure took a long time.”

“I thought I was invincible,” he said, “coming to, after the fact. Somehow, I was still in the world, in spite of what happened. Turns out the dead don’t just fall to the ground, though. We disappear piece by piece, until we ain’t there no more, disappeared to all we loved.”

“And you thought you were bullet-proof, when the next day there wasn’t a hole in your head and your brains were still in the same place. I guess I thought the same thing when my heart seemed to be where it belonged, but it wasn’t long before I noticed a world of the dead, millions fading each at their own pace. Some of us standing still and watching, witnessing what we can while we’re still able. Others sick with wishful thinking, convincing themselves that what they see in the mirror is a lie.

“Which were you, Lucas? I think I know. You’re not the standing still type. You believed you’re such a big man that he could return from the dead.”

“At first, I guess I thought I’d live forever,” he said. “Now I know I’m a vanishing ghost. Best I can hope for is to be a memory.”

She put her hand to her breast again, and felt the deep wound of the heart, manifest once more after so long.

“It’s the final insult,” Quil said, “in the end our wounds appearing again.”

“And you dare bring that gun with you.”

“I can’t get rid of it, I tell you. It’s a kinda Hell.”

“You killed us both, and you expect angels?”

“Forgive me, Lilith,” he said. “Please, before we’re both completely gone. We were in love once, weren’t we? I did it because I couldn’t face it. You were ready to leave.”

“No. You did it because you’re sick, jealous and obsessed with what you can’t have. I was a piece of property. You’ve killed a lot of people who wanted what was yours, and because you wanted what was theirs, and you couldn’t stand losing me to my own freedom.”

He wept in his final earthly misery, and she tenderly stroked his cheek. Their invisibility was now so nearly complete that she could see the vivid colours of the eiderdown through them both.

“It’s hard,” she said, “and I don’t know what good it’ll do either of us, but I do forgive you, because it’s Christmas.”

Quil’s tears were bloody from his suicide wound, and out of a strange sympathy, she said, “Merry Christmas, Lucas Quil.” And as she did, the still solid .38 in Quil’s belt fell to the floor, as they finally disappeared like ghosts.

 

 

 

 

 

shame wheel

the shame wheel spins
only slowing round shift change, the fentanyl dawn
after doing the graveyard
handing out rigs at the door and listening to plights
having to be tough at times
down here where no one backs down
no, no bread tonight no sandwiches
yeah, I got socks no razors
yer right, I don’t know what it’s like
fuck me, another OD in the men’s room
as the neighbourhood tilts into daytime
throwing its own mercury switch
naloxone doesn’t always work it’s all about timing
sirens ambulance and fire the cops stay away
we’re good Samaritans after all
though none of us has heard of the Samaritan Pentateuch
it was Eric he had a bed in the sanctuary
did he have family?
the Mayor calls it a bloodbath
then has an organic lunch
the shame wheel spins

___________________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

haunted shelter

3am

Gustav Holst plays in the dim gymnasium
—the gentle decay of orbits

I pass through the gym with my eyes on the floor
for there are monster faces in the shadows
of this old and long haunted church

then comes the two-way Narcan(!) crackle
someone dials 911

the face of the man on the washroom floor is blue when I arrive
the first two naloxone injections haven’t worked, and I
see flap in the faces of my unflappable coworkers
we wait on the third dose then hear
the fabulous deep inhalation

it’s raining outside
a trivial detail
but it fascinates me
after the ambulance has gone
__________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

graveyard shift at the homeless shelter

if I were a saint
I’d lay on hands &
change all the crack
meth
heroin, rigs & fentanyl
into the pure cold orbits of stars
for all of us to see out front
on the 3am street, looking up

magnificent
someone rejuvenated might say
like the word was sanctuary
beneath a childhood staircase

but the stars move too slow
to compensate for outrageous hurts &
saints should mind their own goddamn business
where were they when the first shit sample
hit the wall & a child mind found
that the real estate of refuge
had fences & gates
__________________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

photographing Spencer

It’s just me and Spencer, alone in an alley on the Downtown Eastside. He’s struggling with the Brillo in his crack pipe.

“Just hang on man,” he says—“I just scored. I’m really jonesing.”

He’s been sleeping on benches, shoplifting and begging. He’s filthy, a stunning ruin of a man. Finally he lights the tiny nugget in the glass tube and inhales. Then he shudders, exhales and says, “Ahhh fuck me.”

I’ve come to take his portrait so he can send it home, but now he’s wrecked. His eyes’ve gone reptile, and he’s confused by gravity. It’s not the picture his family will want to see.

“Damn you’re a mess, Spence,” I say, and he grins at me with his blistered crack-lips.

“Go ahead then. Take my fucking picture.”

And bam, I do. Sometimes I think the D-300 sounds like a gun going off. Bam bam bam…. Holding down the shutter release, circling him. It’s evening and the light is runny, the colours blunt. Every line on his face is accentuated, every deep hungry hollow, every childhood abuse stitched into his psyche.

“Last I got my picture taken, it was the cops,” he laughs. But his buzz is changing, even now. He lights up again, inhales/exhales and says, “I’m running out already. Lend me some cash.”

“I’ll buy you dinner at the Ovaltine, but I won’t lend you money.”

“Shit, I don’t want no dinner. I can get dinner at the mission.” Then he says, “Check this out…,” and attempts a pirouette. He falls on his ass, and I catch the fall in six shots, like the frames of a motion picture. I’m not cruel; I’m just a photographer. I offer him my hand. He ignores it.

Now sitting in the gutter sludge, Spencer says, “My old man fucked me, you know?”

“Yeah, Spence. You told me.”

“Like I was a bitch. Tore me open every time. Stopped when I was about fourteen. Guess I wasn’t pretty no more. Kept beating the crap outta me, though. The prick had a heart attack a couple of years back, died. Shit his pants when he did, my brother says. My mother’s fifty-five. Looks ninety.”

“Pictures are for her, huh?” I say.

“It was hard for her. ”

I’m silent for a moment. Crows are massing overhead for their night-flight back into the suburbs.

“I’ll work on the pics tonight,” I say, “colour and black & white. I’ll track you down tomorrow. We can use a computer at Carnegie to send them home. Try to make that shit in your pocket last.”

“I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow.”

“I’ll look for you, anyway.”

“No,” he says, handing me a grubby note, “I mean I really don’t know.”

He’s already walking away as I read what’s written on the slip of paper—

Please send these words with the pictures: All my love too family and friends. Good-bye. This is followed by a short list of email addresses.

I shout at him, “What’s this mean, Spencer?” Then I run after him, grab his shoulder and turn him around. “What’s this mean?” And I know what it means just by what’s on his face. I let him go. I’m just a photographer.

________________________________________________________

everybody loves Mandy Patinkin – a Christmas story, sort of

It’s when you secretly slide it down into your lower frontal region that you realise why cheese is the most shoplifted grocery item in North America. It’s nutritious and a half pound of it is just the right size and shape to hide in your pants. In fact, I read somewhere that cheese theft was one of the primary reasons that most supermarket pharmacies opted out of methadone dispensing programs in the eighties and nineties. That means you have to be careful, because store security watches the cheese. Which is why I put it into the basket and walk around the store a bit before I sneak it into my jockey shorts.

That’s just something from the street, baby. I don’t care what you do with it. I mean, if you’re reading this, you’re probably all comfortable with a fridge full of cheese. And not that crappy orange shit they pass off as cheddar, either. You’ve probably got some Camembert, some Stilton or Parmigiano-Reggiano, maybe even some Crotin du Chavignol. Careful you don’t choke on it.

So anyway, you ever wake up with your head real messed up? Because you drank the night before, and it ain’t sitting well with the Olanzapine? Which is what you expected would happen but a friend had some cheap rye and you were feeling a bit lonely, so you helped him finish both bottles? Ever wake up like that? Probably not, because you can afford your own cheese. But it’s a bitch to wake up like that. I’ve had your conventional Betty Crocker hangovers and they aren’t anything by comparison. I mean it’s like you wake up and you’re suicidal and homicidal at the same time, but you don’t know what to do first. And isn’t it all about choices, man?

It was like that this morning and I wanted to sleep all day, but my landlady cut this six foot hole in my wall two weeks ago so the plumber could do exactly forty-five seconds worth of work and she hasn’t been back to fill it in. Now I can hear everything happening in the apartment above me. I mean I can hear the woman up there breathing. I can hear her light a cigarette and blow smoke. I can hear her thinking about what shade of lipstick to wear.

So there I am this morning lying in bed, eyes wide open at 9 a.m., listening to the woman in the apartment above me running her Swiffer back and forth over her linoleum like it’s some kind of aerobics—like it’s Swiffercise or something. And she’s listening to this lame-ass radio station playing Celine Dion and Michael Bublé.

So I get up, and I feel like shit. I mean you’ve got no idea. I can’t even puke my guts up and get it over with. Dry heaves are the best I can manage. Booze and court ordered atypical antipsychotics make for a whole different kind of hangover, baby. It’s like being in a food processor with the pulse setting cycling on/off on/off on/off on/off into infinity with Celine Dion and Michael Bublé sitting on your couch singing Don Ho tunes. At times like these, command hallucinations are redundant. I don’t need the dark shadow in the corner telling me to go downtown with a meat cleaver, but at least if it did it might ground me.

But I’m outta bed now. That’s my point. And I’m stumbling round like a fool. I even bounce off of the walls a couple of times. And I’m hungry. So I open the fridge and there’s the cheese. It’s orange and it glistens in its plastic wrap. It sits alone on a shelf in my otherwise empty refrigerator saying, I’m all you got, baby. Eat me. I reach in and gab it. Then there’s a knock at my door.

When I first met my neighbour Myron, I had one of those uh-huh moments. I remember looking at him and thinking, my god, the eugenicists were right! My thoughts rarely have exclamation marks but that one did. Over time, I’ve come to know his knock. It was him at the door. I closed my eyes with the cheese in my hand. What were the chances that if I stood perfectly still and didn’t make sound he’d go away? He knocked again.

Knock knock knock. “You in there, Nick? Got any weed? Nick? You home?” Rap rap rap. “Let’s smoke a joint, man. I’m feeling all strung out.”

Some of us are born with deficits. Others of us acquire them over time. Myron fits both categories. Once, in a drunken stoner of a conversation, Myron described an accident he’d been in. “It’s where I got my brain injury,” he said. He described to me how, as a kid, he’d nailed roller skates onto the bottom of the family toboggan, and rode it down the driveway. Into traffic.

“I remember seeing this big chrome bumper coming at me real fast,” he said. “It had an Alberta plate. It said Wild Rose Country just under the numbers. I was just a kid but I thought, wild roses must be real beautiful. Then, for a second, it got all bright, then real dark. It’s been kinda dark ever since.”

Knock knock knock. “Nick? I heard you bump into the wall, man. I know you’re in there.”

“Bugger off,” I yell.

“C’mon, Nick. I got the tinnitus real bad today. It’s making me crazy, man. C’mon. I know you got a bag of bud, man.”

I went to the door and opened it. “Why the hell don’t you tell the whole damn building?”

“What?”

“What do you mean what? You’re in the hall telling the world I got inventory. That’s fucked up.”

“That cheese?” He focussed on what I held in my hand.

“Shut up.”

Then looked up from the cheese, at me. “You look like shit, man.”

“Shut up.”

“Could I have some cheese?”

I grabbed Myron by the shoulder and pulled him in. “I thought you wanted to smoke a joint. You want cheese, too?”

“I like cheese,” he said.

“Fine. Sit down.”

I pulled a joint out of a small soapstone box above the electric fireplace and threw it at Myron. In the kitchen, I opened the cheese with a pair of scissors.

“You got a match?” Myron said.

I cut the brick of cheese into six chunks and threw one at him through the kitchen door. It bounced off of his nose and onto his lap. He looked down at it with his mouth open.

“You got a match?” he said again.

I grabbed a Bic off of the top of the refrigerator, and threw it at him. It bounced off of his forehead and fell next to the cheese.

“Let’s watch Mandy Patinkin videos on the YouTube,” he said.

“Mandy Patinkin? No way, man. ”

“C’mon, man. They cut off my internet.”

“Why you all hot for Mandy Patinkin all of a sudden?” I said. “You turning queer?”

“No. He’s just got a good singing voice.”

“Forget it, man. You’re in a Mandy Patinkin free zone.”

“Hey man, what’s wrong with you? Everybody loves Mandy Patinkin.”

“Fuck if I do,” I said chewing on cheese.

Then Myron said, “Check it out. I do a great Mandy Patinkin impersonation. Listen: Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

“It’s getting real gay in here,” I said.

“He’s a talented and sensitive guy who’s overcome great adversity—I read that somewhere.”

“Isn’t that swell.”

“I think so,” Myron said lighting the joint.

Then I said, “Hey, you know I knew a guy once that looked like Mandy Patinkin. His name was Dick. Dick Freed. He was even more fucked up than you, Myron. He dealt crack downtown. Smoked as much as he sold. One day, after a harsher than average encounter with the cops, Dick says he’s had it. Fuck the cops, the crack, the other addicts, sleeping in the alley. He says he’s gonna disappear, leave the city. Go to the country and live in the woods, or some shit like that.”

“Sounds good to me,” Myron said. “Can I surf some porn?”

“No,” I said. “Hands off the computer. So anyway, I tell Dick he’s full of shit. I tell him that every skidder-junky I ever met downtown says the same thing. They ain’t even got bus fare but they’re going to live in the woods or with the goats on some imaginary farm. They’re gonna get all clean and healthy and shit and start eating their vegetables. And then I told him that it never happens. I never met anyone that made it out. Talk‘s cheap, and it’s boring. And then I told him another thing; I told him to be careful because, in my experience, it was always shortly after a junky starts talking that kind of shit that he overdoses or gets knifed or gets, in some other way, dead. When you lose your focus on the street, you die baby. That’s just the way of it.”

“You got crackers?” Myron said, taking a monster toke. “Cheese needs crackers,” he coughed.

“I got ‘em, but you can’t have any. So, I run into Dick Freed a few times after that. One time, he’s all bandaged up. He’d just gotten his arm sliced by some crazy bitch named Helga in the Savoy. Not with a knife, but a broken beer glass. The next time, I’m pissing out back of the Washington Hotel and there he is, bleeding bad leaning up against a dumpster. Beaten for outstanding debts. I made sure he was still breathing, and split. Called 911 from the hotel lobby.”

“Can we listen to Howard Stern, man?” said Myron.

“Shut the hell up, I’m telling a story. Next time I see Dick is the last time. Months go by. Dick Freed is nowhere downtown. I stop thinking about him. Some other dealer takes over his spot on Hastings Street. His name comes up a couple of times in conversation—Whatever happened to Dick Freed? You remember crazy Dicky Freed, looked just like Mandy Patinkin?—that kind of shit. But he’s real gone, and I figured dead.

“Then it’s December, just before Christmas, and I see him. Dick Freed, walking up Hastings towards Carnegie. And he’s dressed real nice. He’s standing straight and walking kind of proud, like a real citizen. I mean, he actually looks out of place against the locals. I step aside as he approaches, and watch him coming.  When he sees me, he says hey there, Nick, and holds out his hand. We shake. He tells me that I’m looking swell, which I know I’m not. And I say the same of him, which he actually is. He asks if he’s been missed and I say that he has, by some. And then he tells me what happened.

“Back when I told him to be careful, that the shit he was talking was an overture to his own demise, he took it to heart. After the beating out back of the Washington Hotel, he begged five bucks and bought a lottery ticket. He lost. But he did it again and the lucky bastard won. He won ten million seven hundred thousand and change.

“So, now he lives in a nice little house in the woods on the Sunshine Coast. He’s gone off of the drugs and booze and he’s eating his vegetables. He said he was in the neighbourhood looking up old acquaintances. It was Christmas, after all. That was when he stuck his hand into his pocket and pulled out a crispy new one hundred dollar bill and handed it to me. Ain’t much, he told me, but he hoped it would take the edge off.”

“Wow,” Myron said, in a cloud of smoke. “That’s kind of a cool story. What you told him helped him to move on, to overcome. That must have made you feel good inside.”

“Not really. I was jonesing, and I figured there must be more where that c-note came from. So, I pulled the kitchen knife I’d hoisted from the dollar store and robbed the bastard.”

“What?” said Myron.

“Yeah. Turns out, the dumb shit was carrying more than a thousand dollars. He was just asking for it, man.”

“You’re a real sick bastard, Nick.”

“I guess.”

“You got beer?” he said.

“Not for you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

a Vancouver moment

“Oh Bjorn,” asked Winola, “what ever will become of us?” .

“Don’t worry, Doll Face,” Bjorn said. “This town has never seen a Finnish tap dancer like me. I’ll take this city by storm.”

“But, Bjorn…,” Winola said, with a hopeless whimper.

“What is it Sweet Cheeks?”

“People in Vancouver hate Finnish tap dancing.”

“Then I may have to rely on ventriloquism, Cupcake,” said Bjorn. “Come on over and sit on my knee and only move your lips when I speak, Kitten Whiskers.”

“What a wonderful idea,” Winola said. “The world will be our oyster.”

“That’s right, boo-boo-blossom!”

“But Bjorn?”

“Yeah, Sugar Britches?”

“Would you please just call me by my real name?”

“Certainly, Love Chicken, but what the hell is your real name?”

 

 

 

 

 

closing time at the Jiminy Cricket Cocktail Lounge

A hand and forearm flopped lazily out of the large, sloppily bundled package as it was lifted over the bumper and into the trunk. There were three men presiding. Fat Phil O’Malley stood lookout as a man in a tee shirt and jeans, wearing latex gloves, folded the forearm back at the elbow, tempted by the gold Rolex on the pale, dead blue-veined wrist. A cadaver Rolex. He shook his head and closed the hood.

“You sure this is his car, Phil?” said Jack, the third man.

“I checked the hotel register when the night guy went to the can.”

“All righty, then. It’s July. It’s hot. By dinnertime tomorrow, this bum’ll be attracting cops and flies. The cops will clean it all up real nice. And presto baby, we’re back at the track.”

“He was one lippy son of a bitch,” said tee shirt man.

“Not anymore,” fat Phil O’Malley said. He lit a cigarette, hacked and spit.

*   *   *   *   *

The Jiminy Cricket Cocktail Lounge was just off the highway near the airport, next to the YVR Astor Airport Inn.

It was the small hours, Wednesday morning, and a man by the name of Larry Glick sat at the bar looking at his reflection in the mirror behind the rows of bottles, listening to Antonio Martini do his last set at the electric piano. It was close to closing time and bartender big fat Phil O’Malley was pouring out last call.

“Closin’ time, fella,” O’Malley told Glick. “One more. What’ll it be, same?”

“Same,” Larry Glick said. “Better make it two.”

Big fat O’Malley cracked two beer and put them on the bar. Glick slid some cash back.

The Lounge was still mostly full. Glick imagined it was the usual swarm, but to him they all seemed the type of guys he’d see in a neighbourhood bar or tavern, not a near-airport lounge. These were tradesmen and labourers, judging by their boots, grubby jeans and tee shirts.

“Rough crowd,” Glick said to O’Malley.

“They work for a living,” the fat man said. “No shame in that.”

“Truth,” said Glick, and gulped back some beer.

“Where you from, mister?” said O’Malley to Larry Glick, loading glasses into the washing machine. “Guys like you are in and out as the flights come and go, not all night.”

“Chicago.”

“Ah, American.”

“No shame in that, either” Larry Glick said.

Phil O’Malley shrugged and continued loading the washer.

“I knew a Chicago fella once,” said a man, slurring his words, a few barstools down. “He packed heat, a .45. I told him Canada wasn’t the place for that, but he wouldn’t listen. Ended up killing a broad downtown because she wouldn’t return his affections. He’s doing federal time up the valley now. Last I heard, he was in isolation ‘cause he don’t get along with the rest of the population. I guess people from Chicago are just assholes.”

“Ease up, Jack,” Phil O’Malley said.

“I ain’t seen a gun in twenty years,” said Glick. “Not since the Marines. Not all Americans are the same.”

“Bunch of bastards….”

“C’mon, Jack,” said fat O’Malley. “Let’s end it nicely tonight.”

“I gotta clean up the mess when one of yous Yanks comes up here and goes postal,” Jack said.

“You a janitor?” said Glick.

“No,” Jack said. “RCMP. They call me Policeman Jack, as a way of lowering the tension round here. You can call me sir.”

Glick smiled and sipped his beer. Antonio Martini was singing Volare à la Dean Martin.

“There was this other American I had dealings with…,” said Policeman Jack, sipping his rye and Coke, “from Cincinnati. He was running hot handguns and meth into the country along a dirt road that cut over the border at an uncontrolled rail crossing. But I settled his hash. We shot it out on that very same road when no one else was around. I tapped him thrice, and I left him there for the coyotes.”

“That’s real nice,” said Larry Glick, reading labels on the bottles across from him.

“Please, Jack,” said Phil O’Malley. “We close in a half hour. Let’s not have no trouble. I don’t wanna be talking to your on-duty pals until 6:00 a.m.”

“Is that what you’re doing up here?” Policeman Jack said. “You up here, running guns and selling meth to schoolchildren?”

“I sell semiconductors.”

“Huh! My ex-wife’s brother sold semiconductors outta Silicone Valley. He was a coke-fiend. You a coke-fiend? You in possession? How about I frisk you and find out?”

“You’re shit-faced, Jack,” O’Malley said “And you got no cause.”

“He’s an American semiconductor salesman. That’s all the cause I need.”

“You’re drunk, Policeman Jack,” Larry Glick said. “You ain’t touching me. You think you got cause, call in some of your sober pals. You carrying your weapon right now, all blotto?”

“I carry it in my sleep.”

“Well that’s real interesting. But now, since you’ve been so forthcoming with stories of Americans you’ve known, I want to tell you about a Canadian I once knew.”

“Where you taking this?” said fat Phil O’Malley, under his breath.

“To its logical conclusion,” Larry Glick said, and then, “It happened a long time ago. This guy I knew, a Canadian, we’ll call him Skyler from Regina. He fell in love with a beautiful young woman in Milwaukee, but the woman, let’s call her Venus, didn’t wanna have nothing to do with him.  She thought he was a real tiresome prick. He sold pet food to grocery store chains for a living, drove a base model Honda and dressed out of the Sears Catalogue. She rejected him, so he secretly followed her round for months, studying her, finding out what she liked, where she went, what she ate and drank. A lot of people would have called it stalking. I guess he was a little obsessed with her. But he was weak, just couldn’t move on.

“So one evening, he’s following her in a rental car. It’s in Toronto, where she’s gone on a brief vacation—family, get it? Anyway, he tails her to this club in an old warehouse. It’s loud; there’s punks; an open bar; the reek of kink in the air. He decides to go in, and gives his car to the grungy valet. Once he’s in the club, he’s shocked at what he sees. There’s Milwaukee Venus in a black corset, holding a ping pong paddle in her hand, slapping the ass of this old guy tied to the wall. Venus, as it turns out, is a real spanker.

“Now, in a strange way, Skyler sees his in. He figures he can take a paddling from Venus if it means he can sweep her off her feet and move to the suburbs.

“So, he shoulders his way up to the bar and yells over the music at the bartender, ‘Hey, how does a guy get spanked in this joint?’ And the bartender says, ‘Take a number, chump.’ And the number thing is for real. There’s a ticket dispenser and the numbers light up on a little LED display on the wall. So, Skyler takes a number and orders a ginger ale. He’s number 27, and Venus is currently spanking number 10. He’s got a bit of a wait ahead of him before he gets paddled, so he starts to look around the place and notices that he’s one of the youngest guys in line. Which is saying something, because he’s 49. He’s in a huge room filled with young S&M punks and granddads and some broads with paddles and riding crops. It’s very weird, by his simpleton standards, and he starts to wonder if he shouldn’t just forget the whole thing. That’s when this oldster comes up to him and introduces himself.

“’Hey there, young fella,’ says the half-naked old guy, hollering because like I said it’s real loud. ‘I haven’t seen you round here before. You must be new to our little club.’

“’Yeah,’ says Skyler. ‘I just thought I’d drop in for a spanking.’

“’Well, my name’s Archie,’ says the old guy, and Skyler shakes the man’s well-manicured hand. ‘You like a good spanking, do you?’

“’A hard spanking’s good to find,’ Skyler declares, not knowing what else to say.

“’A decent spanking needs to be earned, though,’ says Grandpa Archie. ‘You figure you’ve earned a good spanking? Have you been wicked? Can you provide examples?’

“Skyler wonders why all the questions, but decides to play along.

“’I haven’t really thought about it much,’ he says.

“’Well,’ says Grandpa Archie, ‘I redirected 75 tons of UN Humanitarian Aid meant for Ethiopian refugees last month. Waddaya think of that?’ Well, Skyler’s quietly appalled. If this guy’s someone’s granddad, then he’s some kinda lousy granddad.

“Lousy Granddad Archie goes on: ‘I made $108,000 off that deal and I spent it all on coke, booze and sex. It’s not the first time, either. Meanwhile, I keep my wife in a cut-rate seniors’ home. She’s got dementia, see. She doesn’t even know my name, anymore. Isn’t that great? I haven’t visited her in eight months, and then it was only to hand over the divorce papers and have her sign over Power of Attorney. You see, I’ve really been a naughty boy.’

“Skyler ponders that. He recalls dropping eggs onto cars from a highway overpass when he was 10 years old, and wonders if that might count.

“Then Grandpa Archie points to the wall where an obese man’s in chains and he’s being spanked by a redhead in a purple ballet tutu. ’You see that porky bastard cuffed to the wall,’ Archie says. ‘The one in the blue and red striped boxers? That’s the CEO of the Bank of Canada. That son of a bitch embezzles, gropes women in public and is generally running the economy into the toilet. You got anything that compares to that?’

“’No,’ Skyler from Regina admits. ‘I guess I don’t.’

“’And yet,’ says Grandpa, ‘you figure you deserve a spanking? C’mon, give it some thought. There must be some seeds of wickedness inside of you. Ever cheat or steal or ignore an injustice? Do you have any admissions of failure? Any pleas for forgiveness? How about a simple desire for understanding?’

“’No,’ Skyler says. ’I sell pet food to grocery stores for a living. I donate 15% of my gross income to charities. I attend church, and I volunteer at a homeless shelter. I return my library books on time. I vote. I….’

“’Phaw!’ says Grandpa Archie. ‘Typical Canadian. But you see the men in this place? They aren’t your typical Canadians. This isn’t any place for a typical Canadian. You want to be in a Tim Horton’s choking on a cruller and a double-double. I don’t know why they let self-righteous little pricks like you into this place.’

“Skyler wondered, too. Though he couldn’t recall behaving self-righteous at any time that evening. He’d paid the cover to get into this debauched place where he was surrounded by depraved leather jacketed kids with Mohawks and old men. He even believed for a short time that he might participate in the debauchery. But he understood in that moment that he lacked the twisted and immoral edge necessary to have a woman like Milwaukee Venus spanking him with her ping pong paddle. Then he wondered, for a single mad moment, if he could be wicked retroactively – get his spanking tonight and then perhaps misdirect a truckload of kitty-chow tomorrow. But he knew he couldn’t. He gulped back his ginger ale and let his number 27 fall to the floor.”

“And then…?” said Policeman Jack.

The energy in the room had changed.

Fat Phil O’Malley stood still behind the bar, engrossed, having hung on every word of Larry Glick’s story. And he wasn’t alone. Everyone in the bar was captivated now, all of the rough-lookers in their jeans and tees. Even Antonio Martini had stopped singing like Dean Martin to catch every word. For his part, Policeman Jack had ditched his arrogance, and was waiting for the punchline.

Larry Glick had half a beer left and chugged it back. It was always like this whenever he told this story, in cocktail lounges across the continent. But this group seemed even more sucked in than the others.

“Well,” Glick said, “Regina Skyler decided then and there that he was only good at one thing, and that was being good (all stalking aside). He looked around him at the S&M nightclub clientele, hoping he would learn from the depravity of his experience. Then he looked over at Milwaukee Venus as she perspired, exerting herself in her black corset, slapping some anonymous senior executive on his ass for some perverted narrative of iniquity. He noticed then that there was a dim magenta spotlight casting an array of erotic shadows across the pale geography of Venus’s shimmering back and shoulders. It made him think he might weaken. But he didn’t. He put his empty glass on a table and walked out.”

Now you could’ve heard an ice cube drop in the Jiminy Cricket Cocktail Lounge.

“That’s it?” said Antonio Martini, who sounded more like Jerry Lewis now than Dean Martin.

“Of course not,” said Larry Glick. “Skyler went home to Regina and continued to sell pet food to grocery stores. A week later, he landed a $12 million deal with a nation-wide chain—who knew dog food was worth so much? He continued to donate 15% of his gross income to charities, and continued to volunteer at the homeless shelter. Once he thought he might live dangerously and return a library book late, but he just couldn’t pull it off. He did, however, stop clothes shopping out of the Sears catalogue and started ordering from Land’s End.

“Then about a year later, he met a woman named Edna at a church picnic. Three months after that, they eloped, impulsively like two nutty kids, in Las Vegas during a pet food convention.”

“And they lived happily ever after, right?” said O’Malley, with a warm chubby smile.

“For a while,” said Glick. “Skyler blew a wad on Edna. They stayed at a ritzy hotel; they ate at the best restaurants; he bought her a wardrobe of designer clothes. They even gambled, which wasn’t normally Skyler’s style. But good clean living paid off and he won 50 grand at blackjack. And that’s how it went until they got home.”

“Then what happened,” said one of the rough looking crowd, at a table near the exit.

“Then they went home, and Edna got news that her mother had died, which sort of rained on the new couple’s parade, but waddaya gonna do? But the news of her mother’s death woke Edna up to the realisation that no one and nothing lasts forever. So, she figured it was time for Skyler to meet her father, who hadn’t been at their wedding, since they eloped. He was some banking bigwig, and Skyler was real impressed with that. For him, that made meeting the old geezer a big event.

“They planned their little family shindig for a Sunday, after church. It was gonna be a barbecue, pork chops with extra fat and some nice thick steaks. Edna even made her favourite Jell-O mold salad, the one with the canned fruit cocktail. And who doesn’t like that recipe?

“Anyway, the big day arrives, and Edna goes out to the airport to pick up her father and is surprised at the Arrivals Gate to find that daddy’s gotten married also, to a woman much younger than him and, in Edna’s opinion, a little bit on the brassy side. But that’s how men are, she decides. And she quietly decides, right there as the suitcases roll by, to bless the union.

“On the way home, daddy’s bride seems amused by the blandness of Regina, which Edna finds mildly offensive. And she can’t help looking at the brassy young thing in the backseat through the rear view mirror. And right there, Edna rethinks her blessing and makes up her mind that there’s something really wrong with the whole situation.

“Back at the house, Skyler’s in backyard barbecue heaven, marinating meat, tossing salad and making an alcohol-free Sangria recipe he’d found in Healthy Pentecostal Magazine. He’s got a spatula in his hand, checking the coals in the pit, when he hears the Honda pull into the driveway. Skyler’s been waiting all week for this moment, and runs out front to greet his father-in-law. And when he does, when he runs up to the passenger side door to open it, he’s stunned to be met by a man he already knows, a well-kept man in his 60s wearing an expensive Hawaiian shirt and a Tilley hat. It’s Grandpa Archie from the Toronto S&M bar. And getting out of the backseat is Skyler’s old obsession, Milwaukee Venus.

“Skyler drops his spatula as Archie holds out his well-manicured hand to shake.

“’Well, well,’ Archie says. ‘Aren’t you the last person I expected to meet today?’

“Venus just smiles sheepishly and gives her suitcase to Edna, who’s picking up on some very weird energy, and wondering what it could mean. So, after a moment, Edna pipes up and says, ‘What’s going on here?’

“But no one speaks, until Archie timidly says to Skyler, ‘Waddaya think of the little woman?’ Which was really the wrong thing to say.

“’It was kind of all of a sudden,’ Venus giggles. ‘It was just a couple of weeks ago. He asked me to be with him at the piercing parlour when he got his Prince Albert. I was holding his hand during the procedure, and that was when he popped the question. It was just so damn romantic. What’s a girl supposed to do?’

“’And he’s stinking rich, too,’ says Skyler.

“’A girl’s gotta think ahead.’

“That’s when Skyler bends down and picks up his spatula,” Larry Glick said. “Then he walks into the house.”

Now the Jiminy Cricket Lounge was more than silent. Larry Glick threw a 10 spot onto the bar, telling big fat Phil O’Malley to keep it. Then he began to shimmy off of his bar stool.

“Well what happened then?” said O’Malley, scooping up the sawbuck.

“You ain’t going nowhere,” said Policeman Jack, putting his hand at his side where the room assumed he kept his service weapon. “Not until you finish the story.”

“No need for gunplay,” Glick said, belching politely into his hand. “Justice was done.”

“How?” hollered one of the rough-lookers by the exit. “You’re starting to piss us off. What the hell happened?”

“You may not like it.”

“Try us,” said Policeman Jack, his hand having disappeared now into his sports jacket.

“Okay,” said Larry Glick. “Archie and Venus just stand there, waiting for Edna to say something. But Edna’s mute. She’s never seen that quiet fatal look in her husband’s eyes, and couldn’t imagine why it was there in the first place. In about a minute, Skyler returns with a 30.06 hunting rifle, loaded with cartridges he’d proudly made himself in his basement, according to instructions out of Christian Survivalist Ammo Magazine. He’d used them more than once to take down deer in season. Now he puts the rifle’s butt to his shoulder and takes aim, moving the sights back and forth between Grandpa Archie and Milwaukee Venus. Who’s gonna go first? Everyone stands still, all wide-eyed, as Skyler chambers a bullet, and then settles his aim on Grandpa Archie.

“’Skyler don’t,’ Edna screams. ‘Whatever it is, we can work it out.’

“’No we can’t, Edna,’ Skyler says. ‘I never thought I could hate until this moment. And I never knew that it could feel this way. I’ve always denied myself hate. They said hate was wrong. It was sin. That a man would always regret it. Can you imagine how a man struggles to keep himself from hating in this world, Edna?  Of course you can’t. You’re just a damn woman. They said hate could kill a man. But it’s not like that, at all. I know it now. It’s deliverance, Edna. I wish I’d known sooner. Now I know why Hitler did what he did. I feel like I could fly. It’s ecstasy. It’s a drug, Edna. And I want more. And I know how to get it.’

“That’s when Skyler finally squinted and drew a bead. He had Lousy Grandpa Archie’s high forehead in his sights. ‘Say bye, bye, old man,’ Skyler said, and squeezed the trigger.

“Click!”

“What, click?” said Policeman Jack. “Failure to fire?”

“Failure to fire indeed,” said Larry Glick. “The warning in Christian Survivalist Ammo Magazine stated clearly that The Publisher takes no responsibility for ammunition’s failure to fire, or likewise misfire.

“You call that justice?” said O’Malley?

“In its own savage way,” said Glick. “Because now Milwaukee Venus sees her chance to defend her man, Archie, and yanks a snub-nose .32 S&W revolver outta her purse and fires six rounds into Regina Skyler, who drops like a rock onto his very own front lawn.”

“This is a very disappointing story,” said Policeman Jack.

“Maybe,” said Larry Glick. “But it makes one point very clear.”

“And what is that?” O’Malley said.

“Canadians can be just as hateful and prone to homicide as Americans,” said Glick. “But when it really counts, you’re too damn stupid to do anything about it. Even when you’re holding all of the cards, you’ll find a way to fuck it up.”

“That’s it?” said one of the rough-lookers near the exit.

“That’s it,” Larry Glick said, checking his gold Rolex. “And with that, I’m going back to my room to get some shuteye.”

“Maybe not,” said Policeman Jack.