August 26, 2009
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:
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.
“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:
“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?
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?
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!>”
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?”
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.”
“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?
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.
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.”
–“Molten… seedless… hydroponic… housewives?”
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?”