I spent five years on the corner of Moffat and Verdun, waiting for my luck to kick in, or the building to give out. When I fell through the balcony, my roommate made the call.

“We’re gonna look at this place,” Joy smudged through Le Messager. “Jesus Christ! It’s perfection.”

A seven-and-a-half for $750? Washer and dryer? All the bills included?

I could not disagree.

But when the appointment rolled around, my momentum had curdled. No more splinters in my side—and I hadn’t actually hit the pavement.

“Dave, you can see our bathtub through the laundromat ceiling.”

I shook the ants from my shoes.

A quick jaunt down the Avenue and we had found our new place. The owner’s son—Richard—did the honours that day:

“We’ve been here forty years,” he explained. “Original fixtures… chandeliers… three closed bedrooms…”

“Balconies?” Joy whispered.

“One in the front. One in the back. Both in very good repair. There’s a deck out there too.”

In Balconville this was currency.

“We just had the plumbing redone,” he continued, “but now mom wants a condo. You know how that is. We’re also ditching the canicherie .”

“Aw—no more doggies downstairs? Dave’s a big fan.”

“Don’t you worry then, David. We’ve got a buyer in mind. An excellent groomer. It’s the least we could do. Pour notre clientèle,” he smiled, “et, je suppose, pour vous.”

When we got home, she was manic.

“Where’re my tap dancing shoes?!”

I enjoyed the performance—but I couldn’t help wondering, who would take that third room?

We had a week to decide it, while the references went through. We came up with Carla: a West Island transplant, like me (although not a functionally bilingual one). A decent person on the whole—but kinda volatile too.  That didn’t seem very pertinent, when I thought of our refuge.

If I had any doubts at all, they were quashed at the signing. Those Bourgeois were so accommodating.

“Will it be alright if I park my car in back of the store?” Carla wanted to know.

“Mais certainement, ma chère!” the radiantly fat lady exploded, as her son poured the bubbly. “This is your new home. We want you to be as comfortable here as we have been, all these years.”

For a moment, I thought I spotted something lewd in the corner of Richard’s eye. But this was quickly forgotten—especially after Carla and our host struck common ground in the vicinity of Atlantis.

“Mais c’est incroyable!” She went up a decibel as she danced toward a bookshelf. “Est-ce que vous connaissez Edgar Cayce?”

“Ah yes,” Carla winked. “Some pretty heady questions in those tomes.”

“The world is so beautifully mysterious,” Madame Bourgeois sighed.

Yes, I thought to myself, and mysteries are so much more beautiful when the plumbing works.

***

Everything worked.

We took decadently long showers. We washed our sheets twice a week. We plugged in three-pronged things, just because we could. We forgot how to use a plunger.

We had a dinner party.

And people actually came.

Then we met the new owner.

That “excellent dog groomer”—Rikka Martin.

Reader, I hated her.

The bitch tried to groom us out.

Soon enough, this raised hackles in the back, and on the deck.

It started in the parking lot—i.e. Rikka’s new backyard (she took up residence somewhere inside the store). One day, Carla drove off to some rendezvous and returned to find a complete patio set and some frolicking poodles in the Holy of Holies. Naturally, she complained. And the message got across. The next time Carla took a ride, Rikka threw up a fence.

I’m afraid locks were picked.

The groomer responded with some shit of her own, forever tarnishing her reputation as a person who can be trusted with large amounts of dog excrement.

If you think matters ended there—or led to anything sensible, like a murder—you’ve probably lived your entire life in a semi-detached bungalow. This fucker’s goin’ to court. La Régie du logement. Along the way, Carla will purchase a supersonic dog whistle, Rikka will cut the heat to our magnificent apartment, and all sanity will be lost in the crossfire. Also, almost as an afterthought, they will begin to play up the linguistic dimensions of the fight.

When we could stand to be home at all, Joy and I pooled our blankets beneath the cold chandelier. It wasn’t so different from the Moffat days, in terms of pure discomfort, but the revolution of rising expectations had stolen the piss from our sails. Carla abandoned herself to the case and the whistle, rocking quite weirdly to the unheard strains of delusional revenge.

We now had a firm date with the judge—and the last vestiges of courtesy were crumbling. The landlady called our number incessantly, reveling in her power over our bodies: “Je prédis une fin de semaine frigide, les amis!” Carla took note of these incidents with glee. “You seethis?” she stroked a burst duotang. “This is the end of Rikka.”

Mother of mercy!

Then she reached for that whistle like a suce.

But now you’re asking yourself—what of Bourgeois? She’s well out of it, no? In her Atlantean condo? I’m sure that’s what she thought. But even the Lost Continent can be subpoenaed.

The thing is: we needed her. Or, anyway, Carla did. To validate her claim re: the parking. It all hinged on that. Establish a verbal agreement and we had a pat hand. But would Bourgeois remember—or choose to forget?

Carla asked me to call her, since I spoke the best French. I patched into the hotline to theTroisième Age of Aquarius.

Her “Bonjour” was the apex of fuzzed out benevolence.

But the voice declined sharply when she said:

“Je m’excuse David, mais je préfère ne pas m’exprimer sur ce sujet.”

“Bitch does not have a choice!” Carla whispered in my ear.

These contracts have zombified lives of their own.

Bourgeois was summoned in due course.

At the Régie, two months later, the ex-proprietor wore the mask of her stillborn Inner Child. Constant agitation—from both sides of the divide—had severed the Gordian Knot of her bliss.

“Je ne sais pas quoi faire, ” she yelped. “Je suis prise entre les deux!”

The last champagne bubble popped in the vise. The judge yawned his way through the testimony and ruled: “This is just normal landlord/tenant friction. Go home.” But Madame Bourgeois had sold her home.

I was on the blue couch, watching Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman, when she called.

My sister. Not Doctor Quinn.

“Is that Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman? What the fuck Bro!?”

It was the big Christmas episode. I had taped it on the 18th.

“Any-wayze!” she snorted. “You still coming to meet me at the restaurant?”

I nodded.

“You remember the address?”

Of course I did. 5737 Côte-des-neiges.

“Cool. See you later Bro. Midnight.”

That was the plan.

In the meantime, I went back to Doctor Quinn.

She wheeled me gently toward departure time.

***

I took the Orange Line to Snowdon and the Blue to Côte-des-neiges. During the first leg of the journey, I had the pleasure of rubbing elbows with Don—a reddened old rumhead with no teeth, but more than enough beard to make up for it.

“How you like this motherfucken blizzard, eh kid?” Don inquired. “Baby Jesis gonna freeze his baby penis off tonight!”

I was a lot more concerned about Don’s dried up old goods—the man had on nothing but a Canadiens jersey.

“It’s an official one. Fuckin’ thing cost more than my favourite hooker. I’m not coverin’ it up.”

Don drove a hard barkin’. He had a lot of nerve, and no functional nerve endings. He would have come in handy that evening, mushing down the street as my herald, breaking wind in the storm.

But Don had a date at Diana Bar.

So I slushed to the restaurant alone.

Four blocks later, I burst through the dirty smoked door. I claimed a booth with my coat, ordered coffee and pizza, and dashed off to defrost my forehead. At the payphone near the men’s room, a slobbering fuck-up declared:

“Don’t… make me… come home… for nuthin’!”

‘Tis better to give shit than receive it.

There were snowman-shaped moth-cakes in the urinal.

I always fought for a seat near the mural. You’ll hear a lot of talk around town about the $1.99 breakfast, the weekend 4 AM booze, the Russian waitress brigade—but there’s a reason they call it “Blanche-Neige.” The Disney demoiselle (with her species-spanning crew) just illuminates the room. Without ‘em you’d be lost in the wood-panneling. But the point is you can’t look away. Once you’ve dealt with the dwarfs, there’s the rabbit to face, not to mention his sidekick the squirrel. That’s a quorum of the craziest eyeballs in creation. The deer and the birds are more restful to contemplate, and Snow White is chill in a one-eyed queen pose. But then off in the distance, at stage upper left, is the champion mindfuck of all. Out of the haze of cerulean blue, dabbed on during Duplessis’ dotage, Castle What’s-Wrong-With-It? looms. I won’t keep you in suspense—there’s no support for the tower-tops. They just float there like disembodied dunce caps.

“Here’s your food Bro,” my sister brought it herself. “I told them to put extra mushrooms.”

I thanked her and made with the teeth. Their pizza’s really good. Tastes like it’s got sugar in the crust.

“So!” she lit a cigarette. “I get off in ten minutes. Then we exchange presents, take naps, and catch the metro for Mom’s. I told her we’d be there by 6:30.”

It all sounded very organized. She’d called up the Info-Bus and everything.

“Kukla!” a slick voice beckoned. “Can I speak to you a second?”

It was Nick, the restaurant’s very own Walt Disney, sporting a jet black mullet-wig. He pulled my sister into a huddle with Oksana, the Russian waitress/girlfriend du jour. Nick put his all into those meetings. Real “hands-on” management.

A few minutes later, she stalked back to my booth, with an uncertain look on her face. Then she peeked back at Nick, who brandished his sleaziest smile.

“Think of the money, Kukla!”

She made excited gestures with her elbows:

“The snowmen are coming! The snowmen are coming!”

(The snowmen are municipal street cleaners.)

“I’m gonna have to work until five.”

I ordered more coffee and cracked open my book.

The storm troopers plowed in around 12:40.

Blanche-Neige isn’t very big, and most city workers are. You don’t burn many calories hauling snow. But you do get freakin’ hungry—and parched for a brew. Took some effort to find places for that crew. I scored a boothmate named Hugo.

“You know,” he pointed at the wall, “at Christmastime, those dwarvis becomes elvis. I don’ mean Elvis-‘ound-dogue. I mean elvis-Norde-pole. Tu comprends?”

I did.

“Dis one,” he put a finger on Doc’s beard, “is le gros Père Noël. And dat,” he reached up and got a hand on Snow’s chest, “is Maman Noël. When dey finish makin’ de toys… Maman Noël… she foque de elvis. Every one.”

And the rabbit?

“De rabbite?” he thought for a moment. “Ben oui, she foque ‘im too. She done it before, you can see it in ‘is eye.”

Through it all I kept wondering: Why’s this ribalding asshole gettin’ all fresco with me?

Lisa smacked his sparse pate:

“Hugo! Leave my brother alone! He’s reading Christmas stories.”

J’l’sais,” Hugo chuckled. “I give ‘im a new one!”

He tipped her ten bucks when he left.

I re-gifted the story.

201: A Spazz Odyssey

September 24, 2009

You could plot out my teen sentence in Suburbia on a grid hewn by the axes of the 201 and 211 bus routes. It wasn’t quite as dull as it sounds. The 211 takes you downtown (unless the traffic drives you back)—and the 201 had The Lady.

I met her at the stop on Hastings near Dieppe. I was kicking rocks into sewers by dépanneur light. I think it was a Boni-Soir then. The sign with the guy with the bag on his head. It must be a Couche-Tard by now. Jefferson said: “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.” I say: “they’re all Couche-Tards.” We’ve come to a pretty fucked-up pass. Anyway, that’s where I spotted her. Pacing rings around the church on the corner.

I’d been playing the jukebox at Athens. Great pizza. Better milkshakes. Tables cleaned daily. Once. They also deliver—if they like the sound of your address. Don’t spoil it by rushing the price quote. George might scream: “Now I have to make the bill now!” Just bring a twenty to the door, okay?

Not too sure what the place is like these days. Twenty years ago, they did a lot of business with the West Island Rebels—a bunch of greasy White noodles rolling through a rough patch before getting starch-collared. I never had much success in separating the strands, but—together—they made an impression… Talkin’ mustangs and girls… flickin’ zippos and blades… springin’ scrap after scrap, with their trap pompadours. But they didn’t snare my group. We fell in with Marjo instead—“Illégale.” You can’t mix it up while that’s playing. You can’t do anything, in fact—except pray for the end.

Eventually, I made it to the stop. A long barren pause on the curb. The 201 doesn’t run often. It hits all of the big malls. The idea’s to keep shopping ‘til it comes. After nine, the idea’s to have a fuckin’ car, dufus. Unfortunately, neither concept has much purchase without money.

Money?” a wild screech careened through the night. Leaves crunched on the other side of the church. A one-eyed lady in three layers of tracksuit came round the bend, index fingers ablaze:

“You took it!” she pointed. “You took my fuckin’ money!”

I denied this, of course.

She buffed the purpled socket on the right side of her face with a mound of mauve sleeves.

“I had it in my purse. Right here,” she squinted at a gleaming leather object in the grass, near her blue Velcro Pumas. “Now it’s gone. I’ll call my fuckin’ lawyer.”

Whoever had taken the money had left a lot of shit behind. The purse was bloated and white. It was the Moby Dick of accessories. She grabbed it with both hands and pulled it toward her multi-mantled breast. I felt STCUM headlights on my neck.

The 201 pulled up. I climbed on, joining two girls with Au Coton bags and a sleep-deprived driver. He perked up when The Lady hopped aboard. She fished an accordioned transfer from the bottom of her purse and dared him to verify the time stamp. He saluted her and turned up the Canadiens on CKAC. We kept moving.

“She’s not really crazy,” the ringleted Goth girl sneered. “It’s a scam to ride the 201 for free. Pointe-Claire to Pierrefonds—all fuckin’ day long.”

“Isn’t that a bit crazy in itself?” her plaid friend suggested.

“Well… maybe…”

“Quit looking at my purse,” The Lady interjected. “I’ll put a subpoena through your mind, bitch. It won’t feel very nice.”

“I never feel nice,” Curlopatra snapped. “I’ve got congenital defects.”

“You took my fuckin’ money.”

“If we had, would we take the 201?”

“I’ll call my lawyer.”

“Go ahead and call,” the other girl spoke up. “There’s a pay phone at Cartier.”

LE CANADIEN S’EN VA!” the announcer declared.

“Keep ogling my purse. I’ll use it against you. In court. And up your ass.”

The bus turned off the Twenty onto Cartier. Both girls got off at the stop near Cantor’s Bakery, leaving me alone in the crosshairs of suspicion. I heard one more chorus of the persecuted hymn, before bailing at Pointe-Claire and Lakeshore. Undaunted, the vocal victim fluttered down the aisle like some vulgar hummingbird. Only one place left to stick her beak. Must have made for quite a postgame show. I’m amazed they didn’t land in the lake.

The woman staggered into transit immortality—sentencing commuters to an endless j’accusathon. How many were stricken by the broken record of her testimony? It’s very hard to say. There seemed to be no reprieve from her swollen-eyed scrutiny, during the last two years of my stretch in suburbia. Everyone knew about the purse, the lawyer and the money at the root of it all.

“I wonder how much they took?” my sister whispered, as we watched The Lady lay into some loser in a K-Way. “You know… originally?”

“I guess it doesn’t matter,” she rubbed her chin. “What I really wanna know is: what does the 201 have to do with it?”

We were en route to an abandoned house in Pierrefonds, near the corner of Gouin and St-Charles.

“It’s got running water and no locks to speak of,” she explained. “Robin and I found it, the last time we followed this crazy bitch after school… She led us right to it. Pretty sweet Sweet Sixteen present.”

From what I understood, Robin was busy hanging the streamers.

My sister went and sat down in the K-Way Kid’s lap.

“Hey!” she looked The Lady in her eye. “Wanna come to my birthday party?”

“You’re coveting my purse. I won’t stand for it.”

“Aw fuck,” my sister sighed.

I’ll come to your party,” the guy leched over her shoulder.

She jumped to her feet with a look of mock-astonishment:

“This dick just told me that he took your money.”

“My fuckin’ money eh?”

Next stop: Gouin Boulevard.

Right before we got off, an old crank pulled my sleeve:

“Have you noticed that most of the really crazy people in Montreal are jabbering in English? Don’t you think the PQ is responsible for that?”

It was such a perfect opening that I’m still pondering the best way to fill it.

“This way,” my sister pointed her cigarette.

The venue looked like anybody’s place (much nicer than ours, in fact)—a spacious brick bungalow, surrounded by pines and those orange-berried bushes. But the smashed realtor sign flashed: “pretty vacant.” Robin saw us coming down the path and cuckooed out the door:

“Happy birthday babe!” she waved. “Hey Dave!”

My sister hugged her friend:

“Who’s bringing the booze?”

“Don’t worry,” Robin smiled. “We’ll have enough to last you ‘til you’re legal.”

Inside, the balloons on the ceiling made the floors seem even emptier. Soon, teens with two-fours poured into the unfurnished void. Someone put on Appetite For Destruction. The girls lit up candles and the moonshine did the rest.

The place really filled up—quicker than sharks to a blood bash.

“Amazing,” my sister did the twist-off. “No drinking in the parks tonight!”

I curled up in a corner of the kitchen, next to a red-head I admired.

“Pass me that candle?” she jerked her eyes toward a huge red block on the counter.

She spent the next little while casting wax molds of her hand. Some of them turned out really well. Glazed gauntlets covered the linoleum.

“Holy fuck!” a guy with a silver bat peeked into the room. “Wild lobsters!”

He showed them no mercy.

The red-head picked wax from her curls:

“You asshole.”

“Aw man,” the guy’s shoulders sagged, “I’m sorry… it’s just… we’ve been waiting a long time for something like this… we grabbed our Louisville Sluggers and came running!”

“We” equaled “West Island Rebels.”

The dining room windows cracked symphonically.

“Ricky!” a voice came from the blast zone. “Get your ass in here!”

The wrecking crew was insanely efficient. When they got done with the glass, they bored into the walls.

“There goes the Neighborhood Watch,” Robin shook her head.

The debris piled up in a hurry.

The birthday girl blew out the remaining candles:

“Time to go.”

Outside, two greasers moved stealthily toward the little cabana at the edge of the property.

“Hey,” they poked each other, “who said that house was haunted?”

“Damn,” my sister looked at her watch. “The 201’s stopped running.”

“We’ll just have to walk down St-Charles,” Robin shrugged.

A Slugger-less Ricky joined us near Gouin:

“Those guys got a bit carried away.”

It started to rain.

“Hey look!” Robin yelled. “The Lady’s at the stop!”

“You mean there’s a bus coming?” my sister sounded skeptical.

Robin was serene:

“She knows.”

Six police cars blared past us.

Brill cream slopped into Ricky’s eyes:

“Fuck, I hope so.”

The woman lurched out of the shelter like a tracksuited hornet.

Man that’s a stupid-lookin’ purse,” Ricky squinted at her.

The 201 Lady smiled:

“Thank you.”

Our bus pulled up.

Half an hour late, but right on time.

Special Deliverance

September 5, 2009

Bathroom carpet made of piss…

Missing bedroom wall…

Prop department heat…

Kim plucked a greasy guitar string and kicked at some bean cans on the floor:

“This place is out of my mind. I can hear it squealing. I dare you to live here.”

Ingrid sauntered back from the kitchen, with the landlady in tow:

“Let’s take it.”

She mouthed the fine print:

“No. Credit. Check.”

Mrs. Sacoransky came at me with a pen:

“We’ll fix the little problems before July 1st—don’t worry…”

She spread the blue and white form on a gravy-stained table.

“Just have to write in a few standard clauses,” she hummed. “So… let’s see… Ten-ants respon-sible for snow re-mo-val… Land-lord to pay wa-ter tax… No pets a(l)-lowed…”

We mentioned our cats.

“…but cats are per-mit-ted,” Sacoransky hummed on.

Kim poked her head into the street:

“Oho! Cretins! Tattoos!”

I signed my first lease.

+++

In Québec, everyone moves on July 1st.  Everyone, that is, except for the bean-guzzlers at 554 Henri-Duhamel. Those dudes didn’t own a calendar.

When I pulled up with my stuff, Ingrid stood flabbergasted at the top of the stairs. She pointed at the window:

“I’m afraid I saw scrawny naked movement in our home.”

I used my knuckles on the flaking red door.

A flaking red face answered it:

“Yeah?”

I shrugged the chair on my shoulder.

“Oh fuuuuuhhhhk,” the guy’s eyes spun. “Claude-man!” he bent his head against his spine. “Wake up man! Fuck! We gotta move!”

He invited us in.

“I’m really sorry, y’know?” he dumped the contents of a post-apocalyptic ashtray onto the floor. “I thought it was next week…”

“It’s not,” Ingrid said.

He pulled warped cigarettes from between the sofa cushions.

“Smoke?”

She ignored the gesture:

“Is ‘Claude’ the responsible one here? Or is that you?”

“Ummm,” the man gaped, “I’m Alain.”

+++

We squeezed our shit in there—after the boys encouraged us to throw their furniture off the balcony.

“…least we could do, man,” Alain explained.

Claude nodded his guitar.

But the bathroom hadn’t changed…

My bedroom lacked a frame…

And the heater thing looked fake.

Ingrid picked up the phone.

Of course it didn’t work.

At the booth on the corner, she told Sacoransky:

“I thought you were going to take care of the little problems. Some of them actually got bigger… No… I guess none of that did get into in the lease… but… listen: we’re roommates… we need two closed rooms… you owe us a wall… right… good… don’t forget to pay the water tax…”

She stepped out onto the sidewalk:

“We’re gonna build it ourselves. Take the money off the rent.”

It sort of worked.

+++

We ripped out that carpet, striking piss-porous plywood.

The cats thought the holes contained vermin. We had to ban them from the bathroom, after Simpson got lost in the depths for twelve hours. Nobody else went in there either—until they absolutely had to.

We also held off on the heat.

Facing reality is for people with options.

In the meantime, we had other faces to deal with.

Half of the actors in Montreal believed that we were running something called the Jocelyne Trudeau Talent Agency out of that crusthole. The headshots rolled in. God knows how Claude and Alain ever coped.

“Should we write a script?” Ingrid stirred a pot of radiatori.

“A lot of these folks could play subnormals,” Kim flipped through the portfolios one day. “I’ve got ideas in that direction.”

Nothing ever came of that, but the piles kept on growing.

“We’ll burn ‘em in a barrel, when this contraption craps out,” Ingrid flicked the heater’s ratty wick.

When she finally put a match to it—just before Hallowe’en—it went up in black smoke.

“Alright,” she crossed her arms, after making it stop, somehow. “Space heaters then?”

So I guess we did have options.

+++

We purchased one each.

On special occasions, we put them both on the coffee table and aimed them at the couch.

In November, my friend Tony came over to watch Deliverance.

“What’s the next step below ‘ghetto’?” he wondered.

“Grotto,” Ingrid shrugged. “Are you okay?”

Tony had had a rough summer. Nearly paralyzed in a camping mishap, he’d been trapped in a temporary exoskeleton ever since:

“They call it a ‘halo vest’—it’s keeping my spinework on track.”

We started the film.

During Ned Beatty’s tragedy, Tony’s tinker toy top hat shook with empathy:

“That’s… so… wrong…”

Ingrid peeked in with a coffee:

“Aren’t we suffering enough in this cavern?”

Tony turned stiffly:

“Don’t worry,” he smiled. “Piggy gets ‘em back.”

I don’t want to spoil it for you, but he does.

“Good night guys,” she took her machine to bed.

We kept right on watching movies—High SierraWhite HeatSwing Time

“Wow! Dancing! Robbing! Blowing shit up!” Tony jumped off the couch, around 6:30 AM. “I’ve been on my ass for too long…”

He looked out the window:

“Hey! Gazette truck! Awesome!”

But we didn’t have money for that shit.

“What the fuck?” Tony shook his head. “You don’t get the Saturday paper?”

That’s what I just said.

“Well you’re getting it today.”

He put on his shoes and ran out.

I watched him skulk robotically up to the landing next door—bending at the waist to snatch the bundle.

On his way back up our stairs, a bloodcurdling horn gored the dawn.

“Hey! That’s not your paper, you deformed motherfucker! Where the fuck you goin’ with that paper?”

It was the deliveryman, seething at the wheel of his vehicle, one block from the scene of the crime.

Tony burst through the doorway as the Gazette van u-turned.

“I did it!” he spiked his package in the hallway.

Frigid breaths hit the ceiling.

Ominous brakes scorched the street.

“Come on out here, bitch! Man that was some flagrant shit! You expect me to disregard it? Think again! This ain’t no part time gig. This is my job. I’m serious about it. I deliver six hundred papers dailyOne thousand on Saturday. And not one of ‘em is for you! So give it back, asshole, before I bust the human parts you got left!”

Tony cackled beneath the sill:

“He didn’t see what door I went into. Idiot’s just yelling at the building!”

Ingrid reappeared with her space heater. She plugged it in and sat down:

“You… stole a newspaper?”

Tony inched across the floor, with his antlers down:

“I guess it was a mistake… I just got excited… y’know?”

She flipped through the Entertainment section:

“He’d better leave before I have to go out.”

The Gazette man raved on:

“You mean to tell me you got enough cash to transform yourself into a motherfuckin’ cyborg, but you ain’t got a dollar for the English language, daily? I’ll throw down with you just for putting these thoughts in my head! I don’t care what super powers you got!”

Several engines hummed in unison.

Ingrid took a turn at the window:

“Egad! Four trucks?”

The press gang unleashed a hail of bitch- and motherfucker-tinged bullshit.

The first one told his comrades:

“I only saw him from a distance, but the guy’s wearing some kinda retard helmet. Conspicuousity’s gonna kill this cat.”

The telephone rang.

It was Kim:

“God damn—I miss all the good stuff! You need backup over there?”

“If she comes here,” Ingrid mused, “the situation will escalate.”

“What about the actors?” Kim giggled. “Should I round up the actors?”

I told her we’d call her back.

The paper people took turns honking like a flock of rabid geese.

A couple of the neighbors came out onto their balconies.

“Good morning ma’am,” the main guy yelled up. “We’re looking for an asshole with some metal in his ancestry. You know any fuckers of that type?”

She did not.

Tony fingered his bolts:

“Man am I glad this thing comes off next week… The whole Gazette nation will be gunning for it.”

Eventually, the rednecks returned to their routes.

Their ringwormed ringleader replaced the stolen paper and sped off, backfiring thick clouds of vitriol.

I put down my crossbow.

That’s Amoro

August 26, 2009

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It was just another dive on De L’Église that was destined to drown. The name on the sign closed on puckered vowel lips, and we called it “Amoro,” since they’d left us the option. That’s all we did with it, for quite a few months. I never saw anyone go in there. But the place stayed afloat long enough for its number to come up in fast food roulette, and my roommate always played by the menu.

Ten minutes after we hung up, a decrepit-ass minivan roared down our street.

“Here comes trouble,” Joy poked her head out the window.

A man burst from the rotting hull of the vehicle, ticking with zeal.

“Good lord, he’s got our souvlakis,” she whispered. “They’re not even in a bag.”

No they weren’t.

At the door, I gave the guy ten dollars, and he placed one foil-wrapped sandwich in each of my hands.

“You are going to like these, my friend!”

I never doubted it.

But the man craved evidence.

“Why’s he coming up?” Joy asked, from the top of the stairs.

“It’s a question of pride, mademoiselle,” the man replied.

He shepherded us into the living room and motioned toward the couch.

We sat down.

“The ‘V’ is for vegetarian.”

I took a bite out of that one.

Joy flashed a tzatziki smile:

“Very good.”

I nodded.

The man pulled napkins from his pocket and flared them out in front of us like a deck of magician’s cards.

“Excellent! I hope to see you at the restaurant in the very near future.”

He saluted and left.

The minivan engine rasped to life.

“Amoro is fuckin’ weird,” Joy wiped her lips.

+++

Two days later, I was sitting with a couple of friends on Amoro’s terrasse, watching gulls battle cars and each other for street pizza crust.

The waiter brought our menus:

“Those birds know what they like.”

It was good old souvlaki-and-napkins.

“For you, my friend,” he pointed at me, “I recommend the grilled vegetable sandwich. You never had anything like this.”

Jamie and Angela wanted in on the deal.

“I was hoping you’d ask,” the man winked.

“No tomatoes on mine, please,” Angela added.

“Never!” he smiled beatifically.

Jamie strolled off to the washroom and came back flushed with discovery:

“Holy fuck! I just saw that waiter guy grilling our vegetables. He also answers the phone. There’s no one else back there.”

A few minutes later, dinner was served.

“You love it!” the chef scanned our faces.

No one disagreed with him.

“I’m so glad!”

He brandished a keychain and two Styrofoam boxes.

“I’ll be right back!”

The minivan crept down the street.

Angela watched it go:

“Amoro does not disappoint.”

+++

But he obviously disappointed someone. A bank, I imagine.

+++

Pretty soon, there was a new Amoro in town.

The flyers said so.

Jamie and I peeked in there one night, to inquire after the dearly departed.

“What do you want to talk about that asshole for?” the pseudo-Amoro exploded. “Sit down!”

A hard offer to refuse.

“Can I get you some water?” the man asked.

We both nodded.

“What kind?”

“Whaddya mean—what kind?” Jamie scowled up a smile.

“It’s an important question, my friend. Our bodies are mostly water—I’m sure you know that—you seem like intelligent men… Don’t you think it matters where it comes from? You are what you drink. I’ve got free water on tap—lots of it—certified by the city of Verdun. You want to be like Verdun? Drug addicts, mental cases and welfare motherfuckers. It’s all in the molecules, my friend.”

“What else you got?” Jamie always kept an open mind.

“If you want to treat yourself right—I have an amazing selection of products in the fridge. Keep in mind now—you pay for top quality. I can get you some $2 stuff from Northern Quebec. I can do that—and it’ll be good for you. But the Alpine spring water? That’s like a transfusion from Superman. And if you’re looking for a real wet dream, I just received a shipment of $20 bottles—direct from the mountains of Greece.”

“Greece?!” Jamie blurted. “Isn’t that a dirty country? All that Athens pollution and shit. Who the fuck wants to be like Greece?”

The man actually flinched.

Then he pulled up a chair and whispered:

“I am sorry to hear you say these things, my friend. But I am not surprised. Your mind has been poisoned by the media… I am not angry at you, you understand—but I want you to know that I am a Greek man, and your words stab holes in my heart…”

“Fuck dude—I was just foolin’ around… Did I pump it too hard?”

“No apologies please… Just listen…”

“I’m on it!”

“Okay…yes… the television is full of reports about the poor quality of Athenian air… but that’s only because the rest of the world—and particularly the Turk—is jealous of our intellectual and Olympical heritage… I have been to the capital—and it is no harder to breathe there than in any other metropolis. But to think in Athens! That is a mental operation which has no parallel anyplace else. I can’t even describe it to you… I got the idea for this restaurant there…”

“Why not call it Athens then? Or Plato? What the fuck?”

The man shrugged:

“Ah, Plato… a great man… but the Hellenic experience cannot be reduced to a name… Do you know the history of Byzantium, my friend? The magnificence of Greek Fire? The Ottoman took advantage of our good nature and put us on the ropes for a few centuries, but my country has weathered the storm. On my last trip, the Oracle at Delphi whispered ‘Greece: 2.0’ in my ear… Do you believe me?”

It didn’t seem feasible to contradict the prophet before dinner was served.

“Man you really tossed that Greek salad around!” Jamie changed the subject. “Did you make it to Troy?”

“Let me tell you something,” the man grimaced, “I will not go to Troy—except as a conqueror.”

After all of that, we ordered tap water (along with submarines and fries).

“Fuck!” Jamie exulted. “This dude’s got even more Amoro than the last one!”

The water was warm, but the submarines were excellent. I looked around for the ketchup.

“You can look all night and you won’t find any of that shit in my place,” Amoro smiled. “It’s an insult to good potatoes.”

A burly man wandered into the eatery.

“I love the ketchup speech. I love dis guy!”

He put a violent headlock on the host.

“This is my friend Nikos,” Amoro coughed. “He fought in the Cypriot army. He can tell you about the Turk.”

Nikos ambushed a chair at our table, settling upon it like a backwards baseball cap:

“Were they asking about the Turk?!”

Jamie stopped chewing:

“Uh…actually…no.”

“Well, if you ever want to know anything. Anything at all. I live across the street.”

Do you?” Jamie leaned forward. “This is the New World, man. No one cares about your tribal shit around here. We just fuck each other with stock market dildos.”

Amoro and Nikos exchanged intense looks.

“This is a conversation with balls!” the restaurateur boomed. “I’m breaking out the $20 water!”

+++

I lost track of the place for a number of months. Whatever I was doing, it must have been important. When I finally got back there, a lot of things had changed:

“Ah! Hello my friend!” Amoro greeted us at the door.

He had a bow tie on.

“Have a seat over here,” he gestured toward the window. “Under the pepper tree.”

“What’s this?” my friend Christine asked, caressing a luscious pepper overhead.

I had made some wild claims about Amoro.

The man brought us menus and water—with ice.

I inquired about the fridge full of imports.

“Specialty waters?” he shrugged. “This is just a regular Verdun diner, my friend. With better food.”

Christine jabbed at a word on the page:

Greek coffee? That’s the same as Turkish coffee, right?”

“Ah,” the man swallowed. “Turkish coffee is black,” he traced a halo round her head, “like your hair… Greek coffee is brown…”

He studied her complexion.

“They are different… but… equally good…”

“I’ll have it then,” she smiled. “With a burger and fries.”

I ordered penne arrabbiata.

When the food arrived, she played the trump card:

“Can I have ketchup with these? Please?”

“I’ll… see if we have any… in the back…”

He sulked into the kitchen.

Christine cupped a hand to the side of her mouth and pantomime-whispered:

“Amoro looks pretty beat up.”

+++

He didn’t last long after that.

They closed up for good in ‘02.

The sign is still up though. The pepper plant too. The pot anyway—and the desiccated fruits of its bloom.

Anyone for Amoro 3.0?

Waiting For Condo

August 19, 2009

That blacked out tooth of a storefront put a crimp in the neighborhood’s smile.

A couple of doors down Verdun Avenue, Réal vented laundromat steam:

“…our block is this close to the edge of… the edge,” he clamped down hard on a piece of fabric softener. “The apartments are rotting and the businesses stink. One more of these shutdowns should do it… But don’t worry about me. Gonna run my machines ‘til the developers move in. They’ll pay me something to leave. It’s a cinch.”

He threw in the strip.

Proto Video Kev’s glass was half full—of laudanum or something:

“We’ll knock down the wall and expand the adult zone!”

“Don’t tell people that,” his wife yelled.

She emerged from the back of the store, shaking her head:

“We can’t afford double rent,” she explained.

“Nah, I guess not,” Kev sighed.

She patted his bicep:

“Just get rid of the dramas and classics, honey. Make way for the good stuff…”

The Panda House looked endangered. The delivery guy waved us on and went back to his soaps.

Couche-Tard Patrique’s mind was elsewhere, at best:

“Got robbed again last night. The boss says to let that shit ride; but stay tuned, ‘cause these motherfuckers get restless,” he showed off karatified fists.

La Banque de Montréal?

Fermé.

You really have to pick your spots with them.

At the dead centre of the block, the “closed for renovations” caption got a little bit staler. My roommate checked her face in the murked up mirror to the commercial cavity’s lost soul.

“Anything could happen here,” she whispered, with a will. “A dance studio… 24-hour poutine… anything.”

+++

Our flat needed flattening, but we served out the lease. Six months after it ended, Réal got his cheque. In the meantime, we freaked out a living.

Joy spray-painted the bathroom solid gold. For about a week, it looked like the drunk tank in Pentecostal Heaven. Then it started to rust and it just looked like Hell.

We had party after party, in honour of no need to clean up. The neighbours outdid themselves in the tolerance department. We knew about the booze—but they proved equally impervious to smashed doors and deep-decibeled debauchery. I’m sure these people had reasons for avoiding the cops, but we never got so much as a knock on the wall. That’s class; or, at least, class solidarity.

Directly next door were the Hackers (née: who-cares? You are what you do). Just your regular co-dependent mother and hooch-backed son-of-a-bitch. They put on a matinee daily:

“Fuck off Maw! <<Ha-ugh! Ha-ugh! Gurgle-gloop>> I’m tryin’ ta put my pants on<<ha-ugh!>>.”

“Hmmm? What? <<kef-ugh!!>> Beer? <<ugh!!>>”

“<<Ha-ugh!> Jesus Christ Maw! <ack-ugh!!> You’d better lay the fuck off. I’m tellin’ ya! <ssssslurp>”

“Mmmmmm<kef!>hmmmmm<kef!> Beer? <arp-urkh!>”

“Al-<ack!>right, fuck!”

Then off to the Couche-Tard like a good little boy.

The people on the other side were much less distinctive, but they held up their end where it counts—at the dépanneur bottle return. That’s where I met all of the block’s tenants—and it’s the only place I ever saw any of them, until Mario (in 5661) staked his claim to that snake-bitten hole next to Kev’s.

Joy brought home the news, one early spring evening:

“They’re grand opening something down there. I don’t think it’s poutine.”

Actually, it was Mario’s garbage—with price tags. Living upstairs from all of that dust for more than eight months had given him the entrepreneurial itch.

“Mr. Koch is letting me use the place until a real business comes forward,” the lucky man explained.

He poured inaugural lemonade for the masses.

“Hey Mario! Cool dog puzzle! Are all the pieces inside?”

“Uh…probably?”

Joy snared herself a silver cupid ashtray for $2.

“Half-price for pretty ladies,” the host flashed a middle-aged wink.

She gave him a toonie anyway.

“Sweet guy,” Joy crushed a butt into the base of her new trophy and stretched out on the couch. “Wanna order poutine?”

+++

The new shop did well. Mario even hired a cashier—a stringy forty-something with track marks galore.

“I’m turning over a new leaf,” she smiled.

But she was terribly mulched up.

One day Joy found a surprise in her little bag of trinkets:

“Holy fuck! Mario’s girlfriend-or-whatever handed over the store keys with my Wonder Woman game!”

We returned them—right after the pizza guy came.

“Omigod thank you!” the cashier burst into black-eyed tears. “I thought one of the kids had taken them!”

Mario kicked some cans round the alley.

A sweet fuckin’ guy.

The next day—at the Laundromat—big red clown feet flipped by in the dryer next to mine.

“Mario’s been moonlighting at birthday parties,” Réal explained. “He doesn’t pay rent, but he needs to shell out for that junk.”

“Are you talking about <a-heugh!> heroin?” Hacker Jr. wanted to know.

Sans-dessin! What are you even doing in here? You never washed a load in your life.” Réal turned back to me: “Of course I meant the puzzles and shit… What’s the point?”

“I wish I didn’t know this,” Joy sighed, as soon as I’d told her.

+++

A week before moving, we peeked into the store.

The shelves had section names. The floors looked pristine. Mario was alone at the cash:

“Joy! Good to see you! Like the new set up?”

“Yeah,” she smiled. “Nice job.”

“Hey, uh, that guy looking at the Care Bears… he’s not your boyfriend, is he?”

“No,” she backed away slightly, “but…”

“’Cause listen,” he hoarsepered, “I’d really like to take you out sometime.”

“Mario…I…”

“You’re not worried about that lady who used to work here, are you? She and I were never serious, you know…”

He resurrected the wink.

Joy leaned into a pile of legwarmers, shoulders fighting a chuckle.

“That’s right. Laugh. Laugh at the clown who lives with his mother.”

What else can you do?

Le marquee du stade

August 5, 2009

People whisper your name, whenever I’m around. They know that I don’t want to hear it. Too late for all that. I wish I’d been stopped at the start. Pie IX or Viau. Two ways to get in—but there ain’t no escape from your AstroTurf heart.

We met thirty years ago. You were awkward and shiny and teeming with potential. Full to capacity—and a bit waterlogged—you stuck a permanent shiver in my spine. The guy on the mound kept throwing to first. A bald chicken chorus scored the scene. Every pick-off maneuver plucked barnyard strings. A real down-homefield advantage. Lasorda burned ‘em off the screen. But we found other means.

Cheering at the wrong time… making un-ironic waves… all that “Val-de-ri, val-de-ra” jazz… Yeah, it was more than just you, stade-muffin—it was how we felt inside of you.

***

Now you’re disporting yourself with International Salons; and I’m Pie Nine-ing away for the symbolic field. I know I’m projecting. You were never The Fairest. But did you have to hook quite so far foul? I even heard you’ve been doing it with trucks. You’re taking a dump on my childhood.

***

In the beginning, there were rainouts. And Fall doubleheaders. A lot of fun to watch—but they screwed up the rotation and cost us three pennants. A full count of pleasure and pain. Then they struck out the rain and the fans took a walk.

Personally, I supported the roof. (Not structurally, of course.) Nominally retractable, it was slower than most weather systems. “Don’t let’s ask for the sun, we have bright orange Kevlar,” the little fan inside me would say. But it drove them off in droves. Quebecers get enough of their orange on at the Bronzage.

I guess that’s a cop-out—blaming friends for the split. I stopped coming so often; you shat concrete bricks. And of course you had other admirers. Trumpet Boy for instance. The guy was a spazz, but he wore his heart on his cheeks. He never missed a game. He put his body on the line: shamble-dancing down stairwells (beer-bellied, short-shorted) without motor skills. He got sweaty and puff-faced, but his head never swelled. Unfailingly gracious—incoherent as hell—he whipped out his autograph one time. You couldn’t read the name, but the title said it all: “Something Something, Trumpeteer.” I loved sharing that with you.

I remember exactly when everything changed. I didn’t get over you. The pangs linger on. You just slipped into my permanent loss column. Fire sales… strikes… infrastructural gloom… they must have contributed, but it didn’t feel that way.

Just a regular Saturday matinée. Another day in the bleachers. Another game with the Cubs. Absolutely nothing at stake. Both pitchers were on—and the defense was tight. We plowed into the eleventh, with the score tied at one. It was time to press our luck. With every passing inning, more box seats opened up. The VIPs got tired and security got bored. The longer the contest, the shorter the odds.

The Cubbies pushed a run through, but the Expos got it back. By the top of the thirteenth, I could almost touch the field. I was with a couple buddies: eating bretzels, spewing salt. The bad guys scored again.

The man behind us cackled: “Hé! C’est ti-guy-doux!”

With his crazy blondish afro and his Hitler-style moustache, he made us feel alright. There was beer foam in his nostrils and Asperger’s in his eyes. He was alone in the row—and clearly always would be.

As long as he keeps smiling, I thought, I will take whatever comes.

Then the home team filled the bases, without using any outs. A sacrifice would tie it; a single win the game.

The two-tone moustachfro jerked his thumb toward the Spheres.

But the clean-up man died swinging and the next one got DP’ed.

I folded my scorecard and turned back with a shrug.

The smiler had taken it on the chin.

“Fuck you, baisse-bol,” he burped.

They oughtta write it on the roof.

Hard Rain

August 3, 2009

They come at you fast and furious, at the special orders desk:

How To Snare a Millionaire. Before Valentine’s, alright?”

The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, please. Newest edition. My pal’s finally getting an entry.”

“Vachel Lindsay, my good man. The works!”

“I’ll need about ten books by Sark.”
–“Sartre?”
“Sark.”
–“Molten… seedless… hydroponic… housewives?”
“Right. Sark.”

The best way to punish these fuckers is to give them what they want.

Every so often, you get something in return.

+++

It began with a phone call, as these things often do.

My colleague grabbed the receiver and winced:

“I’m… I’m… sorry… I’m…sir… I can’t… no… I can’t… Hey! I-can’t-understand-what-you’re-saying.”

“No,” her voice rose quizzically, “I don’t need you to speak up… I need you to speak… differently…”

A very fair assessment—I had assumed she was wrangling with Donald the Duck.

“Ah… yes… I see,” she moved to the web-search computer. “Labrador Retrievers…”

We already had a man with a thing for Schnauzers. He called up every Sunday, looking for new publications on the breed. There usually weren’t any—and this caused him much pain. Pain that inevitably flowered into acrid harangues. It didn’t seem feasible to allow another monomaniac dog-fancier into our lives. I went to the bathroom and tried to forget the whole thing.

“Nice guy, actually,” my friend reported, when I returned to the desk. “I was afraid it might go Schnauzer, but he’s really not that kind.”

Pleasant tidings indeed.

“His voice is pretty strange though…”

I floated my Donald Duck comparison.

“More like Porky Pig, I’d say—a white water hiccup… I took a deep breath, pictured the Lachine Rapids, paid attention to the rocks and paddled on home.”

It was just as exciting—and much wetter—to converse with him in person. The floodgates burst wide two weeks later: a portly, red-faced man rushed through the doors and sloshed up to the cash.

“You’ve got some books—some books—some… books for me!” he gushed. “Labs A-<cough!> Labs A-<cough!> Labs Afield… and… another one… equally important!”

Yes. The New Complete Labrador Retriever. Both items were filed under the name “Palmer Hard.”

He reached for them like long lost friends. Puddles of enthusiasm welled up all around us, as he proclaimed the foundation of a dog-knowledge empire, in his mother’s small Verdun flat.

“I told you he was better than Schnauzer man,” my friend poked me, as we did some quick maintenance.

The guy panted after his bliss with the determination of a Soviet five-year planner—pumping orders night and day. Collies, corgies, basset hounds. Whippets, beagles, samoyeds. Twice a week, he came for them.

Until his savings ran out.

Palmer Hard did not—could not—work. He survived on some kind of a disability pittance. I got the sense that he had given up feeding himself in order to bankroll phase one of the project, but even that gesture had its limits.

He kept right on making orders.

The Hard file was getting out of hand.

The dogs were barking.

When the books engulfed an entire shelf, The Manager reached for the muzzle.

“That’s enough of this Hard shit,” he scratched at the hair on his chin. “Cut him off.”

Of course I was on duty the next time he rolled in—empty-handed, as usual; head in a caniform cloud.

Wonderful Weimaraners!” he grinned.

His tail went limp when I informed him of the ban.

“You-mean-you…? You-mean-you…? You…can’t…?”

He appealed to The Manager, but the tether held firm.

Two weeks later, Palmer Hard strolled in with a woman on his arm:

“The Bearded Guy told me… he told me that… if I purchased four books,” he flashed four fingers, “four books… I could order the Weimaraners.”

I was genuinely delighted to hear it.

Hard stroked the woman’s purse:

“This is Dolores.”

“I’m Dolores,” she handed me the cash.

I punched up the transaction—and processed the request.

Palmer laughed like a schoolboy.

Dolores kissed the spittle from his chin.

That night, he called up to tack on a very strange postscript:

“Hel…Hello,” the voice was low, confidential, verging on suave. “I’d like one more book please. It’s called… Nubile Ladies.”

My colleague blanched at the data on the screen:

“What the fuck? Palmer Hard?”

For the first time in his life. Probably.

When the couple returned, he was clearly in the doghouse. They got kind of rowdy in the Self-Help aisle.

“All—alright,” he winked at her, finally, “fine… You don’t have to buy… You don’t have to buy five.”

“You aren’t nice, Palmer,” Dolores sailed out the door.

He drifted back to the desk.

“I’m… I’m sor–… ‘m sorry…” he dribbled. “I can’t… I can’t make my… my purchases this week… Do you? … Think? I could ask for one more? Great Danes in the Mornin’?”

“I’ll handle this,” The Manager tapped my shoulder.

“I’m afraid not, Mr. Hard,” his fingers clacked ominously. “In fact, I’m deleting your account. Your books will be shelved in the pet section… and in… uh… Health & Sexuality… Your orders aren’t special anymore. Of course, you’re quite welcome to buy these items. But I think the rest of our clientèle deserves a crack at them.”

Palmer unleashed the juiciest raspberry on record.

“I don’t understand what happened,” my colleague wondered, as Hard stomped down the street, toward Indigo. “He was one of the good ones.”

“He was an asshole,” The Manager sighed.

“Which one of you wants to clean up this gob?”

Red Planet Funnies

July 30, 2009

They say there’s microbial life on Mars, and that was certainly the case at the planet’s namesake store on Sainte–Catherine. The place fairly bristled with biodiversity—and catered to it as well. Bored with humanity, as it seems to be constituted? Mars always had a few unseemly specimens in stock. I’m no prize ham myself, but the dude at the cash (Ozzy Osbourne in a toque) knew just how to cure me:

“Hey guy—you’re doin’ good, eh? I saw ya on TV!”

(He absolutely did not.)

That’s customer service, folks—with a dope sick smile.

I started shopping there years ago, when it lurked in orbit around Phillips Square, upstairs from an adult theatre. The Martian consortium ran both establishments, and they were quick to cross-market:

“Fuck that triple x shit,” Ozzy once told me, “We got four X down there! Guaranteed sex. You’ll see.”

I was twelve. But you don’t turn your back on a chance to build up your brand. Those guys planned ahead. They didn’t do much else. They certainly didn’t sweep, dust, alphabetize or pay their heating bills. All was chaos in the cold void of Mars—and you knew it had been this way from the start.

It was the purest browsing experience of my life. Paperbacks, comics, records, tapes. Posters, t-shirts, rags and games. They could have had anything—and your guess was much better than theirs as to where it might be. Daring New Adventures of Supergirl #13? Ozzy had other issues on his mind. He’d talk the wax clean outta your ears, if you got him on the right subject. It wasn’t all flesh-peddling either. More often than not, it was robots.

“I mean big, homicidal row-bits,” he would spray, in his nasally way. “Helpers of mankind? Not for long. You’ll wake up one morning with a steel boot up your ass—and no foot inside it. Guaranteed.”

The guaranteed sex sounded better.

Ozzy wasn’t alone with his fears at the helm of the ship. His partner—The Viking—was an even-keeled sort: a tall, ponytailed android who didn’t talk much—except about salvaging the business:

“That piece of shit theatre was dragging Mars down.”

So they moved down the street, into a basement near the corner of Sainte-Catherine and City Councillors. They brought every mite and mote with them. The moist conditions under the rock thickened the collection into plastic-pulp pudding. For a while, the store was more wonderfully alien than ever. You simply could not see the floor. But within a few years, they’d terraformed the place to the ground.

Just one law. That’s all it took. A creased yellow decree. Even the dismal calligraphy couldn’t save it. After years of announcements like “Welcome Grand Prix!” and “Ask About Our Deep Discounts on Anal,” they hit us with:

ALL PORNOGRAPHY MUST BE EXAMINED IN THE DESIGNATED AREA.

–The Management

Was it a joke? After all, “The Management” hadn’t bothered to separate the Heat from the Laugh Digests. It was a parody of Order, at best. But the “area” existed—and the peepers trooped dutifully into it. My own tastes run more toward Nero Wolfe novels and Alf Comics; but it had mattered so much that Mars made no distinctions.

I was working nearby at the time—and spending my lunch breaks at the store. Would some challenger arise to beat off the system? Would Mars let things slide if they did? I had to know.

Finally, one day, the man across the bin from me struck Hustler in a drift of Doctor Whos. A pomaded yobo in a dirty cream suit, he had no clue at all about the Rule. I made a bid for his attention, but a discman barred the way. His eyes were smeared onto the page.

The Viking rowed over.

“Excuse me sir.”

Cream Stain didn’t look up.

“Sir?” A shadow loomed over the offender. “Sir!”

What can I say? The guy was preoccupied.

“He can’t hear ya, man,” Ozzy yelled from the cash.

“Yeah,” his partner sighed, “no kidding.”

The tall man reached for the headphones and yanked the wire from its socket.

“Ah!?” Cream Stain yelped. “What’s going on?”

“You wanna know what’s going on?” The Viking’s voice rose. “You want me to explain it to you?”

“I…I’m just…browsing?”

The all-purpose retail defense.

Sir, you’re reading pornography in the middle of the comics section.”

“Sections?” the man’s lip quivered. “But, I…I found it here.”

He looked at me for corroboration. (It was me or Ozzy.)

“Don’t look at him,” The Viking threw up his hands. “And don’t make excuses. You’ve been drooling over pussy in full view of these Disney comics.”

What Disney comics?”

“I’m standing on them,” he pointed down. “I’ll stand on your head in a minute.”

“What?”

“Yeah,” The Viking nodded. “You’re pissing me off. Me and my friend over there.”

He pointed toward the cash.

“Personally,” Ozzy smiled, “I’m fine with it. But a rule’s a rule, right guy?”

He winked at me.

The Viking pushed the man toward the exit:

“Get your ass outta Mars.”

I kept right on pawing at an issue of Action (that’s Superman—not porn).

“Fuck!” The Viking slammed the door. “How’re we supposed to attract people with these assholes around?”

“I don’t know, man,” Ozzy shrugged. “But it’s no big deal. People are just about done.”

A little while later, the place was condemned.

Je ne sais pas quoi faire. Je suis prise entre les deux!”

The speaker?

Une vieille madame—Bourgeois by name—slagged into the crotch of a green plastic chaisse at the Régie du logement.

A far cry, I’m afraid, from the rubicund landlady who’d served champagne with the lease, last May.

Oh yeah baby—in medias res.

How’d she get so mal prise? Who’re her Scylla and Charybdis? What’d they deux to her, câlisse?

Yes, you can bet your sweet asses that backs will be flashed.

I spent five years on the corner of Moffat and Verdun, waiting for my luck to kick in, or the building to give out. When I fell through the balcony, my roommate made the call.

“We’re gonna look at this place,” she smudged through Le Messager. “Jesus Christ! It’s perfection.”

A seven-and-a-half for $750? Washer and dryer? All the bills included?

I could not disagree.

But when the appointment rolled around, my momentum had curdled. No more splinters in my side—and I hadn’t actually hit the pavement.

“Dave, you can see our bathtub through the laundromat ceiling.”

I shook the ants from my shoes.

A quick jaunt down the Avenue and we had found our new place. The owner’s son—Richard—did the honours that day:

“We’ve been here forty years,” he explained. “Original fixtures… chandeliers… three closed bedrooms…”

“Balconies?” my roommate whispered.

“One in the front. One in the back. Both in very good repair. There’s a deck out there too.”

In Balconville this was currency.

“We just had the plumbing redone,” he continued, “but now mom wants a condo. You know how that is. We’re also ditching the canicherie .”

“Aw—no more doggies downstairs? Dave’s a big fan.”

“Don’t you worry then, David. We’ve got a buyer in mind. An excellent groomer. It’s the least we could do. Pour notre clientèle,” he smiled, “et, je suppose, pour vous.”

When we got home, she was manic.

“Where’re my tap dancing shoes?!”

I enjoyed the performance—but I couldn’t help wondering, who would take that third room?

We had a week to decide it, while the references went through. We came up with Carla: a West Island transplant, like me (although not a functionally bilingual one). A decent person on the whole—but kinda volatile too. That didn’t seem very pertinent, when I thought of our refuge.

If I had any doubts at all, they were quashed at the signing. Those Bourgeois were so accommodating.

“Will it be alright if I park my car in back of the store?” Carla wanted to know.

Mais certainement, ma chère!” the radiantly fat lady exploded, as her son poured the bubbly. “This is your new home. We want you to be as comfortable here as we have been, all these years.”

For a moment, I thought I spotted something lewd in the corner of Richard’s eye. But this was quickly forgotten—especially after Carla and our host struck common ground in the vicinity of Atlantis.

Mais c’est incroyable!” She went up a decibel as she danced toward a bookshelf. “Est-ce que vous connaissez Edgar Cayce?”

“Ah yes,” Carla winked. “Some pretty heady questions in those tomes.”

“The world is so beautifully mysterious,” Madame Bourgeois sighed.

Yes, I thought to myself, and mysteries are so much more beautiful when the plumbing works.

***

Everything worked.

We took decadently long showers (that were, in fact, almost certainly shorter than the medieval fumblings that took place under the spittle discharged by the nozzle at the old Moffat place). We washed our sheets twice a week. We plugged in three-pronged things, just because we could. We forgot how to use a plunger.

We had a dinner party.

And people actually came.

Then we met the new owner.

That “excellent groomer”—Rikka Martin.

Reader, I hated her.

We all did—and some of us weren’t very good at managing our hate.

Some of us were Carla.

Back in high school, Carla had bitten a few people. She had also rammed a ladder into a guy’s nuts. It doesn’t get much more cruel or unusual than that.

All of that was in the past. Carla underwent some major renovations during her late-teens. Ten years later, she appeared safe as houses. But the possibility of a relapse could not be discounted.

As you might have guessed, the trouble started in the parking lot—which now, quite suddenly, became Rikka’s backyard (she took up residence somewhere inside the store). One day, Carla drove off to some rendezvous and returned to find a complete patio set and some frolicking poodles in the Holy of Holies. Naturally, she complained—and a compromise was grudgingly established. The next time Carla took a ride, Rikka threw up a fence. Who could’ve predicted that the outraged driver would exact summary revenge—bulldozer style? The groomer responded with some shit of her own, forever tarnishing her reputation as a person who can be trusted with large amounts of dog excrement.

If you think matters ended there—or led to anything sensible, like a murder—you didn’t read the beginning of this story very carefully. This fucker’s goin’ to court. Along the way, Carla will purchase a supersonic dog whistle, Rikka will cut the heat to our magnificent apartment, and all sanity will be lost in the crossfire. Also, almost as an afterthought, they will begin to play up the linguistic dimensions of the fight.

When we could stand to be home at all, my old roommate and I pooled our blankets beneath the cold chandelier. It wasn’t so different from the Moffat days, in terms of pure discomfort, but the revolution of rising expectations had stolen the piss from our sails. Carla abandoned herself to the case and the whistle, rocking quite weirdly to the unheard strains of delusional revenge.

We now had a firm date with the judge—and the last vestiges of courtesy were crumbling. The landlady called our number incessantly, reveling in her power over our bodies: “Je prédis une fin de semaine frigide, les amis!” Carla took note of these incidents with glee. “You see this?” she stroked a burst duotang. “This is the end of Rikka.”

Mother of mercy!

Then she reached for that whistle like a suce.

But now you’re asking yourself—what of Bourgeois? She’s well out of it, no? In her Atlantean condo? I’m sure that’s what she thought. But even the Lost Continent’s within reach of the long arm of The Law.

The thing is: we needed her. Or, anyway, Carla did. To validate her claim re: the parking. It all hinged on that. Establish a verbal agreement and we had a pat hand. Even demolition derby would make synthetic sense. But would Bourgeois remember—or choose to forget?

Carla asked me to call her, since I spoke the best French. I patched into the hotline to the Troisième Age of Aquarius.

Her “Bonjour” was the apex of fuzzed out benevolence.

But the voice declined sharply when she said:

Je m’excuse David, mais je préfère ne pas m’exprimer sur ce sujet.”

“Bitch does not have a choice!” Carla whispered in my ear.

These contracts have undead lives of their own.

They subpoenaed Bourgeois in due course.

At the Régie, two months later, our old friend wore the mask of her stillborn Inner Child. Constant agitation—from both sides of the divide—had severed the Gordian Knot of her bliss. The last champagne bubble popped with it. The judge yawned his way through the testimony and ruled: “This is just normal landlord/tenant friction. Go home.” But Madame Bourgeois had sold her home.

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