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?

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