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.
August 26, 2009
It was just another dive on De L’Église that was destined to drown. The name on the sign closed on puckered vowel lips, and we called it “Amoro,” since they’d left us the option. That’s all we did with it, for quite a few months. I never saw anyone go in there. But the place stayed afloat long enough for its number to come up in fast food roulette, and my roommate always played by the menu.
Ten minutes after we hung up, a decrepit-ass minivan roared down our street.
“Here comes trouble,” Joy poked her head out the window.
A man burst from the rotting hull of the vehicle, ticking with zeal.
“Good lord, he’s got our souvlakis,” she whispered. “They’re not even in a bag.”
No they weren’t.
At the door, I gave the guy ten dollars, and he placed one foil-wrapped sandwich in each of my hands.
“You are going to like these, my friend!”
I never doubted it.
But the man craved evidence.
“Why’s he coming up?” Joy asked, from the top of the stairs.
“It’s a question of pride, mademoiselle,” the man replied.
He shepherded us into the living room and motioned toward the couch.
We sat down.
“The ‘V’ is for vegetarian.”
I took a bite out of that one.
Joy flashed a tzatziki smile:
The man pulled napkins from his pocket and flared them out in front of us like a deck of magician’s cards.
“Excellent! I hope to see you at the restaurant in the very near future.”
He saluted and left.
The minivan engine rasped to life.
“Amoro is fuckin’ weird,” Joy wiped her lips.
Two days later, I was sitting with a couple of friends on Amoro’s terrasse, watching gulls battle cars and each other for street pizza crust.
The waiter brought our menus:
“Those birds know what they like.”
It was good old souvlaki-and-napkins.
“For you, my friend,” he pointed at me, “I recommend the grilled vegetable sandwich. You never had anything like this.”
Jamie and Angela wanted in on the deal.
“I was hoping you’d ask,” the man winked.
“No tomatoes on mine, please,” Angela added.
“Never!” he smiled beatifically.
Jamie strolled off to the washroom and came back flushed with discovery:
“Holy fuck! I just saw that waiter guy grilling our vegetables. He also answers the phone. There’s no one else back there.”
A few minutes later, dinner was served.
“You love it!” the chef scanned our faces.
No one disagreed with him.
“I’m so glad!”
He brandished a keychain and two Styrofoam boxes.
“I’ll be right back!”
The minivan crept down the street.
Angela watched it go:
“Amoro does not disappoint.”
But he obviously disappointed someone. A bank, I imagine.
Pretty soon, there was a new Amoro in town.
The flyers said so.
Jamie and I peeked in there one night, to inquire after the dearly departed.
“What do you want to talk about that asshole for?” the pseudo-Amoro exploded. “Sit down!”
A hard offer to refuse.
“Can I get you some water?” the man asked.
We both nodded.
“Whaddya mean—what kind?” Jamie scowled up a smile.
“It’s an important question, my friend. Our bodies are mostly water—I’m sure you know that—you seem like intelligent men… Don’t you think it matters where it comes from? You are what you drink. I’ve got free water on tap—lots of it—certified by the city of Verdun. You want to be like Verdun? Drug addicts, mental cases and welfare motherfuckers. It’s all in the molecules, my friend.”
“What else you got?” Jamie always kept an open mind.
“If you want to treat yourself right—I have an amazing selection of products in the fridge. Keep in mind now—you pay for top quality. I can get you some $2 stuff from Northern Quebec. I can do that—and it’ll be good for you. But the Alpine spring water? That’s like a transfusion from Superman. And if you’re looking for a real wet dream, I just received a shipment of $20 bottles—direct from the mountains of Greece.”
“Greece?!” Jamie blurted. “Isn’t that a dirty country? All that Athens pollution and shit. Who the fuck wants to be like Greece?”
The man actually flinched.
Then he pulled up a chair and whispered:
“I am sorry to hear you say these things, my friend. But I am not surprised. Your mind has been poisoned by the media… I am not angry at you, you understand—but I want you to know that I am a Greek man, and your words stab holes in my heart…”
“Fuck dude—I was just foolin’ around… Did I pump it too hard?”
“No apologies please… Just listen…”
“I’m on it!”
“Okay…yes… the television is full of reports about the poor quality of Athenian air… but that’s only because the rest of the world—and particularly the Turk—is jealous of our intellectual and Olympical heritage… I have been to the capital—and it is no harder to breathe there than in any other metropolis. But to think in Athens! That is a mental operation which has no parallel anyplace else. I can’t even describe it to you… I got the idea for this restaurant there…”
“Why not call it Athens then? Or Plato? What the fuck?”
The man shrugged:
“Ah, Plato… a great man… but the Hellenic experience cannot be reduced to a name… Do you know the history of Byzantium, my friend? The magnificence of Greek Fire? The Ottoman took advantage of our good nature and put us on the ropes for a few centuries, but my country has weathered the storm. On my last trip, the Oracle at Delphi whispered ‘Greece: 2.0’ in my ear… Do you believe me?”
It didn’t seem feasible to contradict the prophet before dinner was served.
“Man you really tossed that Greek salad around!” Jamie changed the subject. “Did you make it to Troy?”
“Let me tell you something,” the man grimaced, “I will not go to Troy—except as a conqueror.”
After all of that, we ordered tap water (along with submarines and fries).
“Fuck!” Jamie exulted. “This dude’s got even more Amoro than the last one!”
The water was warm, but the submarines were excellent. I looked around for the ketchup.
“You can look all night and you won’t find any of that shit in my place,” Amoro smiled. “It’s an insult to good potatoes.”
A burly man wandered into the eatery.
“I love the ketchup speech. I love dis guy!”
He put a violent headlock on the host.
“This is my friend Nikos,” Amoro coughed. “He fought in the Cypriot army. He can tell you about the Turk.”
Nikos ambushed a chair at our table, settling upon it like a backwards baseball cap:
“Were they asking about the Turk?!”
Jamie stopped chewing:
“Well, if you ever want to know anything. Anything at all. I live across the street.”
“Do you?” Jamie leaned forward. “This is the New World, man. No one cares about your tribal shit around here. We just fuck each other with stock market dildos.”
Amoro and Nikos exchanged intense looks.
“This is a conversation with balls!” the restaurateur boomed. “I’m breaking out the $20 water!”
I lost track of the place for a number of months. Whatever I was doing, it must have been important. When I finally got back there, a lot of things had changed:
“Ah! Hello my friend!” Amoro greeted us at the door.
He had a bow tie on.
“Have a seat over here,” he gestured toward the window. “Under the pepper tree.”
“What’s this?” my friend Christine asked, caressing a luscious pepper overhead.
I had made some wild claims about Amoro.
The man brought us menus and water—with ice.
I inquired about the fridge full of imports.
“Specialty waters?” he shrugged. “This is just a regular Verdun diner, my friend. With better food.”
Christine jabbed at a word on the page:
“Greek coffee? That’s the same as Turkish coffee, right?”
“Ah,” the man swallowed. “Turkish coffee is black,” he traced a halo round her head, “like your hair… Greek coffee is brown…”
He studied her complexion.
“They are different… but… equally good…”
“I’ll have it then,” she smiled. “With a burger and fries.”
I ordered penne arrabbiata.
When the food arrived, she played the trump card:
“Can I have ketchup with these? Please?”
“I’ll… see if we have any… in the back…”
He sulked into the kitchen.
Christine cupped a hand to the side of her mouth and pantomime-whispered:
“Amoro looks pretty beat up.”
He didn’t last long after that.
They closed up for good in ‘02.
The sign is still up though. The pepper plant too. The pot anyway—and the desiccated fruits of its bloom.
Anyone for Amoro 3.0?