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.
“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:
“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:
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:
Our bus pulled up.
Half an hour late, but right on time.
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:
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.
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 Sierra, White Heat, Swing 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 daily. One 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.