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.