been on the street long enough that when I heard the
rumours--and I don't count the news as any different--about
bums jumping out of Winnipeg windows I didn't pay a
lot of attention. For one thing, I wasn't in Winnipeg,
and even if I was, I didn't know any of those people.
I didn't know anyone from Winnipeg, and I was hoping
that would always be the case. And for that matter,
there's plenty of reasons that would drive someone out
a window and I've never been one to judge another's
decision to let go or move on.
had my own place in the world. I don't go to North Van,
where the cops will drive you out just for enjoying
a smoke by the water, and I stayed away from the far
east side, near the highway where people more desperate
than me prey on anyone loose enough in their affiliations
that they stand out. I'm more of a middle town person.
I've lived off Main, and for one summer in Jericho Park,
away from the beach, the boats, and the cheerful teenagers
in the hostel. I lived amongst the blackberries and
the bushes, avoiding Brian the groundskeeper and picking
cans when I felt like it towards the end of the month.
More recently, I'd moved out along Commercial Drive.
I felt I was above Hastings, and the hippie silliness
of the Drive suited me. It was one of the places in
the city where when Velcro meets corduroy it settles
into an uneasy truce.
spot, for everyone has one--even the people across the
street from the organics in the condos--was in front
of the falafel place. I could be found around Desarts
nearly any day, or in the park just below the organics,
or over by the bakery off Venables. I drifted through
the long summer afternoons doing a bit of dumpstering,
although they were picked through already by people
keener or more desperate than me, and asking people,
as kindly as the years had allowed me, for change. I'd
heard nearly every possible variation on get a job or
quit freeloading that anyone could imagine. Although
sometimes I racked my brain to figure out another way
of saying it, I frequently, regardless for having been
to college and all, came up empty.
that's why, because I couldn't figure out another way
of telling off people asking for change, that I was
so surprised when I found one. I was behind the Safeway
off Broadway, in their parking lot helping people return
carts for a loonie a pop when I was approached by a
guy in a cheap suit. I usually avoid the type, although
I've hacked them for a coffee before, the price of listening
to their spiel.
lost buddy, I'm working." I didn't say it in a mean
way, and I could have, but I gave him a tone that should
have had him shoving off to someone else to tell about
god. I've had more than enough gods. I've probably been
in more temples and mosques and churches than nearly
any religious pusher. The Baha'is have free food, and
the Sikhs put on a good spread. Sometimes the Mosques,
on Eid anyway, have food they share, and very occasionally
the churches. Although the Christians put you through
a howling at the sky to get to the table, their buffet
style is old-timey, grandma food and worth getting frothy-mouthed
over some Jesus.
cheap suit didn't leave so I was just thinking I might
have to get inspirational when he said, "I have a business
proposal for you."
took a better look. He was thin enough from being young
but obviously had never gone hungry. His hands were
butter soft and uncreased, the fingers slim like menthol
smokes. The suit was off-the-rack, although I've never
been the best at judging that, and his dress shoes were
dusty from walking. He wasn't threat-like in a cop sense,
and twitchy like a nutjob, but something about how he'd
singled me out made me feel less than special. Sometimes
Kitsilano boys trolled the east side for easy marks.
You get hired for easy money, a quickie in a car, and
then you'd be found with the shit kicked out of you
along the Sea-to-Sky Highway.
type of business you in?"
testing. You know Hillside?"
nodded that I had heard. Hillside did medical and drugs,
and Holly was going there regular for eye drops that
kept the pressure from building up. It was hours of
checkups and measurements, but that way her meds were
affordable. Human experimentation on the poor for a
few bucks so rich people didn't have to worry about
not into drug tests." I skirted around him to pick up
a cart from a woman who was stuffing the last of her
reusable bags into a SUV's automatic trunk. It had just
started to close when I offered to take her cart back
for her. "Take care of that for you, ma'am?"
let go of the cart, it wheeled to me, and I spun it
toward the corral. I only barely hearing her thanks
as she levered herself into the truck and began to back
out. I waved when she passed and then looked to find
another. The day was getting late, and business slowed
in the evening. Not everyone wanted an eager hand on
their cart in a parking lot that only featured two working
don't mean to interrupt your business." The suit was
standing to one side between a grey station wagon and
a blue beetle. "If I can just leave this card." He dangled
it from two fingers and for a second it looked like
he was smoking one of those long tan cigarettes from
took the card just to get rid of him, jammed it into
my back pocket and forgot about it. I watched just to
see what he drove but he went into the SkyTrain station
and was lost in the heading-downtown crowds.
made another few bucks and then strolled over to Needle
Park to see what was going on. It was a good time, for
some punker kids had put together an impromptu concert
they were calling a protest and before long the cops
showed up. They couldn't do anything but stare as two
of the girls went bare-chested in some kind of political
statement. The night was smooth by the water and even
after the punkers left and I was alone with the bicycle
guys cruising for dropped joints I was peaceful as a
seagull on a dump. There was plenty to go around and
by the time the dew fell I'd found a hedge and was wrapped
up in my sleeping bag.
it hadn't of rained the next day, I would've had nothing
to do with the suit, but it was steady dripping through
the hedge at four in the morning and by the time the
commuters were pushing and shoving to work I was pretty
wet and miserable. I was thinking I could use a few
bucks for a room off Hastings so I walked along Main
Street until I found the office. It was in the back
of a Chinese joint, and the sweet green pepper smell
made me want the money even more. I'd heard some studies
paid fifty bucks for watching a movie and writing your
answers on a sheet, and I was more than ready to get
out of the rain. The humour of it was I probably would
have followed a christer home if I thought it would
make me a few bucks.
suit wasn't there, but I put my card on the counter
and the woman squatting over the bench scowled at me
and then pointed to a take-a-number machine. Oddly,
her surliness put me at ease more than anything else.
Scammers were generally friendly with everyone. Only
legitimate businesses can afford to treat people like
dirt. I was wrong about that, as it turned out. Maybe
they knew that from some psychology study and so had
hired her, or they might have picked the nastiest stump
of a woman randomly.
was almost desperate enough for Good Housekeeping
when a man in a lab coat came to get me. I kept the
sneer off my face, but I was thinking they were milking
it pretty slim if they were thinking a white coat would
convince me. He ran me through a few due diligence statements
but I didn't bother to read them. I wasn't worried.
If they killed me it wouldn't matter pretty soon, and
if I was alive I could sue them regardless of what I'd
thought since that I should have at least kept some
of the paperwork but they didn't offer me a copy and
I didn't ask. The fifty bucks was already warming my
pocket and they said I'd be done in less than an hour.
I was already spending my money along the strip when
they led me to an office down the hallway from the waiting
I was seated and they'd strapped in my arms and chest.
I wasn't too freaked, although it was more Frankenstein
than I'd been expecting.
don't fuck with me too much," I joked as they put sensors
on my temples and on either side of my heart. The techie
grinned with too much teeth showing and then they left
the room and turned on a buzz that reminded me of an