Spring In Vancouver

 

“I know, let’s get some garlic sausage for dinner,” Shane O said “it’s on sale at Safeway for a buck fifty.”

“Sounds good,” was D’s reply.   They had been skating a bit in the early afternoon at the art gallery, and started drinking around three. The problem was, as always, money. Neither Shane O nor D could really afford to spend more than thirty dollars for the whole night. The beer they were drinking already cost each a little over ten dollars they still had a long ways to go if they were going to make it to the Palladium.

“We gonna get anything to go with the sausage”, D asked

“What do you mean?” replied Shane O

“I don’t know like cheese or crackers, something like that?”

D always deferred to Shane O’s wisdom when it came to budgeting for a night out. Usually it was Shane O who imposed the financial constraints upon an evening and for good reason, welfare. Had been pretty much since he moved down to Van in the summer of ’97. He had moved from the Kootenays shortly after D, hoping, like so many others from across Canada, to make a name for himself in skateboarding. After making connections and starting to get recognized by some of the players in the sheltered world of sponsored Vancouver skateboarders of the late ‘90s. H then blew out his knee in the autumn of ‘97. After that there wasn’t much left for a guy who had quit high school, had no work experience to speak of, and couldn’t really stand up for a long period of time.

By the summer of ’98 Shane O could dick around on the little stairs at the back of the art gallery, but for a young man capable of so much more this limitation had to be frustrating. On top of that trying to live on the $500 bucks a month welfare offered must have made life seem damn near impossible. Rent alone was $380, which afforded him the living room of a two-bedroom apartment, converted into a bedroom by hanging a thin sheet on the doorway.

Yet, like others he found a way.

“I met this chick on the chat line last week,” Shane O told D as they were walking down Robson. Back in those days, before the widespread use of the internet for dating, people would often use 1-800 number chat lines to find late-night love. The cost was prohibitive for people like us, but again Shane O found a way. His workaround, as someone mired in the depths of poverty, was to go to pay phones all over the city and call the chat line to get the free 60-minute guest pass code. Back then he would always have a crumpled piece of paper in his pocket with dozens of codes on written on it.

“Oh yeah, is she cool?” D replied

“Seems pretty cool, she works at that bowling alley on Granville. You want to go by after we get our food?” Shane O proposed in his usual whisper.

“Sounds good,” an already buzzed and hungry D agreed. “Where do you want to eat asked D? We could just go in the alley behind Safeway.”

“Nah, let’s eat when we get to the bowling alley.”

This sudden change in plans perplexed D. Though the idea of hauling himself all the way back up Robson to Granville so soon didn’t really appeal him, with Shane O something like this was to be expected.

Always more of the alcoholic, D placed one condition upon the proposed hike: “Let’s Old Man a couple of beers before we go back up”.

When they got to the Safeway, Shane O led the way. As someone who literally watched every penny and couldn’t really cook anything, he always knew where to get the best prices on processed foods. Back then Safeway had a row of freezers at the back of the store and the farthest left freezer contained discounted meat. There was, as promised garlic sausage on sale for a buck fifty. Extremely freezer burnt garlic sausage, but garlic sausage nonetheless. This was the food for those on welfare, no nutritional value or taste, just lots of it for very cheap. After chipping in for hydro, Shane O, single and unemployable, had about $140 dollars a month to live on.

They paid for their garlic sausage and went behind Safeway to drink. The Old Man drinking game was and is, as far as I know, one of Shane O’s most original inventions. Imagine two old drunks standing in an alley sharing a bottle. There is no celebratory aspect to their consumption. The drinking is done in a methodical and silent manner. A bottle is opened; the opener takes a drink and passes it silently to the drinking partner. The silent drinking continues until the alcohol is finished. This was how to “play” the Old Man drinking game. D wondered, even when playing, if it was just training for the life they that lay before us.

After two rounds of Old Man, D’s descent into drunkenness was much closer. “You ready”, D asked Shane O? “Let’s go” he replied. The walk was uneventful, just two guys in their early twenties, a little drunk on a Monday afternoon, going to a bowling alley to ask a the woman who works behind the counter, a woman who one of the guys met on a chat line the previous night, if she had anything, say a hair dryer, to help defrost frozen garlic sausage.

D’s adherence to the financial constraints that Shane O imposed upon their evenings together always became a little looser once D was unhampered by sobriety. “It’d be nice to have a beer with our sausage, I think I’ll go over to the Royal Bank and grab $20.00.” This plan was also driven by D’s reluctance to avoid being part of the awkwardness that was bound to present itself when Shane O walked into the bowling alley and introduced himself to the woman he met on the chatline. D knew that it was doubtful she really wanted her late night interlocutor to show up at her workplace, smelling of beer, and wearing slightly dirty clothes (laundry wasn’t included in Shane O’s rental). D often felt a drain upon his bank account when he hung out with Shane O, really no problem though they had been friends since they were four, that afternoon in the welfare office.

For those of you who haven’t been, Commodore Lanes is located between Robson and Smithe and even back in the 90s was an aberration. A bowling alley in the heart of downtown Vancouver just seems so unnecessary, who bowls there? And where do they bowlers commute from? To get to it you have to descend a staircase, but once you’re down the stairs it is actually a pretty big space.

D could feel that his balance was a little off going down these stairs so, he held onto the handrail for safety. When he took the sharp right into the lounge the first thing he saw was a forlorn Shane O sitting at an empty table. D sat directly across from him at a small table: “she says she can talk with me after her shift is done at seven”. “That ain’t too bad,” D said “we can eat, maybe have a beer or two and then go outside for a bit,” D continued. “Nah, I think I’m gong to go home, I can’t handle this,” Shane said. “No don’t leave yet, let’s get a beer and figure out how to eat this sausage,” argued D, attempting to overcome Shane O’s despondency.

D stood up and went to get the beer without waiting for Shane O’s response. Looking behind the bowling alley bar he saw a normal enough looking woman, about the same age, brunette hair just past her shoulders, wearing a t-shirt with the Girl Skateboards logo on it, a couple of sizes too big. Her only customer, a large man in a plaid shirt, tucked into a pair of tight black jeans that had a large key ring attached to them, was sitting on the stool closest to the cash register drinking a Bud. I walked over and stood beside the cash register.

“You and your big buddy planning on sticking around long?” he asked.

“Don’t know,” D deflected. “Two Canadians,” D said loudly to Shane O’s love interest, whose back faced him as she sprayed out a pair of shoes.

“Might want to move on after your beers,” the drinker advised. “Lucy has a boyfriend, a cop in fact,” he continued.

“That’ll be nine dollars,” Lucy said.

D passed her his new twenty and asked her to give him ten back. “Free country,” D replied to the big guy.

“We’ll see,” was his ominous reply.

D wondered what he meant by that. This girl, who was really nothing special, I mean she worked at a bowling alley and dated a cop, apparently told Shane O that she could talk to him after her shift ended. So the discussion these two had while D was at the bank could not have been that confrontational or even unsatisfactory. All the same, D wondered, who this middle-aged bowler protecting Lucy’s virtue was: her boyfriend’s friend most likely. Really it wouldn’t surprise D that a cop would appoint an underling to watch his girlfriend while she was at work. Seemed like just the type of thing one of those bastards would do, fuck.

“So how’d it go with Lucy?”

“She’s acting like she doesn’t even remember me.”

“I thought you said she’d talk to you after she was done work? Or did she just tell you that to shut you up?”

“Yeah,” said Shane O, not really answering the question. He sipped his beer.

So they sat at the table in the bowling alley sipping their beers in silence. The sound of a ball running down the gutter could be heard in the one lane in use. A group of Japanese international students could be heard laughing. D had always thought that even Vancouver must have disappointed these students if they came from a bustling place like Tokyo. Vancouver, like all British Columbia towns and cities, was, on a geographical basis, a small parcel of land taken from the mountains. When you looked across to West Van you could see the frontline between mountain and city. In this part of BC the mountain had suffered heavy losses and judging from the weekly stories of hikers and snowboarders having to be rescued from it depths, had retreated into a state of guerilla warfare.

“I’m gonna go and defrost this sausage,” D declared and headed to the washroom his beer in one hand, sausage in the other. “This is getting stupid”, he thought to himself. “We should have just went back to my place and drank the afternoon away. My roommates are at work and I’ve got some food. But no, fucking Shane O and his love interests”, he fumed as he placed the sausage under the automatic hand dryer. “Now I am in some stupid bowling alley with a frozen sausage, with some rat bastard telling me to leave, what’s the point?” he fumed.

Just then the big guy from the stool walked into the bathroom and straight ahead into the toilet stall. D, trying to play it cool, continued to defrost his sausage. Every twenty seconds pushing the big round button to continue the flow of hot air; BAM and the sausage got softer. When it was soft enough, D took his teeth to the top of the plastic casing and tore it open.

From the toilet stall he heard the big guy talking: “Looks like they’re planning on sticking around for awhile,” he said. “One of them is pretty big six-foot at least, that’s the one messing with Lucy. The other is probably a buck forty soaking wet,” he continued. “See you guys in a bit,” he concluded.

D grabbed a couple of paper towels and hurried back to their table. “We gotta go,” he said. “Nah, let’s nurse these and wait to meet up with Lucy,” Shane O replied. “You see that big fucker who went into the washroom behind me?” D asked. “Well he called Lucy’s cop boyfriend to tell him were here. The cop and his partner are on their way, let’s go!” D implored. “That guy is just fucking with you, cell phones don’t work underground,” Shane O, who had once owned a cell phone, sagely reasoned. That was all the convincing it took. “Well I’ll go and get a knife to cut this sausage.”

Lucy caught his attention as he was walking to the condiment stand. She quietly mouthed the words “please go”. D smiled, not to be intimidated he knew cell phones didn’t work in underground bowling alleys. If she wanted them to leave, however, this was an indication she was not interested in Shane O. “Am I his keeper?” D asked himself. His reply was in the negative. “If she isn’t interested she should tell him,” he thought.

A couple of bites into their sausage the big guy came out of the washroom, he walked right past his seat at the bar and headed down to the international students. D watched him closely, while Shane O continued on about some new skate park being built in some suburb. The international students clearly didn’t understand what he was saying, but when he pointed to the stairs and said leave, they got it. They conferred with each other and filed out politely, first picking up their shoes.

“We have to go,” D implored

“We’re fine. That asshole is just trying to scare us. He is a fucking creep. Probably has a crush on Lucy,” said an unfazed Shane O.

Lucy was spraying out some shoes. I watched her from the corner of my eye. She finished what she was doing and then came out from behind the bar, walked right past Shane O and D, didn’t say a word, and headed up the stairs. She glided up the stairs silently, we heard the door open, and then CLUMP, CLUMP, CLUMP, CLUMP, CLUMP, CLUMP.

“Oh shit”.   Shane O and D stared at each other. Lucy’s overseer walked past them. “I gave you a chance to leave,” he said.

Two cops rounded the corner they stopped and talked to the big guy. D heard the smaller one tell him to lock the door, and then he was gone.

As they approached, Shane O stood up. “Sit down,” the smaller one barked. “I’m just heading home,” Shane O replied. “Come on D let’s go.”

“Best do what they say,” D cautiously advised.

Shane O was now chest-to-chest with the representatives of the law. “Out of my way,” he demanded. The smaller one shoved him to the floor.

“You the one claiming you know my girlfriend?” he asked, “Or is it your chicken-shit buddy?”

“What the fuck,” Shane O grumbled as he picked himself up. “I have a bad knee.”

The two cops grabbed his arms and yanked them behind his back. The little one fumbled for his cuffs and then slapped them around Shane O’s wrists. THWACK, THWACK. Shane O was shaking, “What did I do?” he asked. “I’m gonna take him for a little talk,” the little one said. And with that he started pushing Shane O from behind. “What’s your badge number?” D heard as they moved towards the bathroom. Shane O stumbled a little, and tried to resist, but for every misstep thee was a corresponding shove. When they got to the men’s washroom Shane O stood in front of it and the cop took out his billy club placed one end in each hand, holding it horizontally and slammed Shane O into the swinging door.

The bigger cop stood in front of D. “Can you tell me what was going on here?” he asked. “Just having a beer with my friend,” D replied. D always hated dealing with cops because of the questions they asked. Their air of innocence, of accusation even, when, especially in this case they were the clear aggressors. Their infallibility. When out of uniform who were they but a bunch of well kempt jocks, probably watched every Canucks game at the Shark Club, and were probably well-liked by their high school teachers.

“Sounds to me like you were doing a little more than that,” the cop said.

“Eating some sausage to,” D said.

“You are gonna learn something this afternoon you little punk,” he said, “you are going to learn not to mess with another guy’s woman.”

“I am certain it will be a lesson well-taught,” D replied.

Just then the bathroom door swung open: “We’re done”, the little cop barked. And with that they both headed for the stairs. “Have him out of here in five minutes,” the little cop barked towards D.

When D heard the main door swing open he got up and headed for the bathroom, but before he got there a limping Shane O came through the door. He wasn’t bloodied. Like a good pimp the cop knew not to hit his victims where the bruises could be seen. “What’d that bastard do to you?” D asked.

He could tell Shane O was furious. He had seen this before, the deep breaths and the shaking arms. “It’s not over,” he mumbled under his breath.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I am going to get even,”

“That’s the thing with these bastards, you can’t get even. They are allowed to kill you if you come near them. The badge and gun means they always win.”

“Not this time, maybe not this year, but at some point, I am getting even. It won’t take much just the right chance. I have a zero threshold with the cops now.”

And with that they were outside. Lucy and the big bastard were still out of sight. The sun was beating down on a hot late afternoon in May.

“Let’s catch the Davie street bus down to English Bay and finish up our beer before and try to forget this ever happened,” suggested D.

“Yeah, Okay.”

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