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.

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.

Le Fuckedbourg

July 28, 2009

Listen, if you think Le Faubourg’s lookin’ good, you can just skip this story, ‘cause you’re fucked.

It is fucked.

I’m an open-minded guy, but this is one subject I don’t care to discuss.

It’s the Green Monster of retail, alright?

And we both know it didn’t have to be this way.

Yeah. Sure. It had problems from the start. Pre-fab old world markets always do. At the height of its grandeur, the first European word it conjured was ersatz. But at least where there’s imitation, there’s something flattering going on. Ces jours-ci, Le Faubourg is an oppressive slab of nothing.

So who took out the contract on its sliver of life? Can’t The Man even be trusted to take the Eurotrash in? Someone stumbled onto a good thing there. Why’d they have to trip it up?

I can’t answer these questions. I’m not an intrepid reporter or a real estate pundit. I’ve just spent a lot of time in the food court, whenever the escalators are working. I’m sitting there now—next to the Bangkok—with a plate of Phad Thai and a sightline congestion headache.

I turn to my fellow consumers for relief. I counted five of them on my way to the restaurant. I can’t see them now, of course, but I’ve learned to store up these nutrients like a dromedary of the imagination. Every visit to Le Faubourg is a leap into the backwash of life, shod with concrete galoshes. Somewhere behind these Cask of Amontillado renovations, the good times are screaming. I’ve done enough searching for mine. These days, I’m more partial to the rest of the choir.

There’s a middle-aged lady near the tea shop that I see here a lot. She’s just the type to wax nostalgic over carpet stores past. There was a good one on that bizarre mezzanine, back in 1994. An old classmate of mine used to own it. Cedric. Twenty years old and rolling in fabric. Meeting him there had been quite a surprise. He’d spent most of his teen years in rehab. Then fate pulled those rugs out from under him. This was long before the work crews invaded. Businesses did fail even then. In the end, Cedric gave smack another shot. He’ll write a memoir someday, you’ll see—Needles and Threads. It’ll help a lot of folks to make sense of their lives. Upon finishing it, the tea lady will glance up at her Punjabi tapestry and smile.

There’s a studious-looking man diggin’ in, on the building’s western front. This guy—I know—has got serious problems: back when there were bins full of candy at the heart of the market, he threw himself at me in the kosher gummi aisle. I had been reaching for the worms—and there weren’t many left. He made a decision and snapped. There was room to run in those days, and I got trampled but good. That kind of thing could never happen now. The store’s been swept into a dusty corner of ground zero, and half the time there’s a tarp over its face. Who wants gummies under those conditions? Certainly not my friend, sitting there with his books and a few tins of Dollarama canned meat.

There’s a twelvish-looking girl doing things with her cell phone at the Nutri-Pasta counter. No way is she old enough to linger here long. My guess is: she’s already pushed on to some less pathetic destination, like a hospital cafeteria. She won’t be back—unless she sparks up a career documenting ennui, some day.

There’s a couple laughing together by that weird shafted elevator. It’s a Miramax romcom tableau. The kind they showed in the sous-sol, before Sharx took it over. A charmed detour—that little theatre—on the road between monarchist venues and cinemausoleums. Now it’s swimmin’ with the neons.