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.

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201: A Spazz Odyssey

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.

“Well… maybe…”

“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:

“You asshole.”

“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:

“She knows.”

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:

“Thank you.”

Our bus pulled up.

Half an hour late, but right on time.