Friday, January 30, 2009

CITY

Open.

The Vietnamese restaurant by my Vancouver crib is always open, twenty-four hours. They weren't always. Many years ago they were open regular boring hours, then experimented with being always open on weekends, then for the last few years have remained open always. When I was eating there on a 3AM Thursday January morning, customers were arriving every ten minutes, welcomed by the Euro-thump techno that is commonplace at such restaurants; I finished my No. 10 to a Chipmunks-on-methamphetamines-in-Ibiza version of "Funky Town". The music is appropriate because in this restaurant, any time is a good time for a pho dance party. 3AM might as well be 3PM.

The moment this restaurant decided to go twenty-four hours was the moment they contributed to Vancouver's status as a real city. A real city is always open. A real city is a gathering of un-like-minded people. A real city understands that although the majority of its inhabitants are forced to (unwillingly) wake up at 7AM, an enormous minority put their heads to bed at that same time. The key is population. Let's say 10% of human beings -- regardless of their occupation -- prefer going to sleep at 5AM. These late-night prowlers need cafés to write their manifestos at, grocery stores to buy gai-lan at, pharmacies to buy lubricant at. In a town of 10,000 people, the 1000 owls aren't reason enough to stay open past 10. But in a city of 1,000,000 people, there's gonna be 100,000 stragglers needing Astroglide and Chinese greens after writing their own private Das Kapital at 5AM. And in a city of 10,000,000... There's a city-within-a-city of people who ain't sleeping. Their night-time economy flourishes. Their stimulation won't rest.

Big cities don't only offer late-night eats; there are treats for people of every hour. Let's say 10% of a population want to see a ballet. 10% of a population want to see a low-budget film in a cinema. 10% of a population want to buy a Modernist credenza. 10% want Suicide albums on vinyl. 10% want to see a Kandinsky two inches from their nose. In a town of 10,000 people, the demands of a discerning 1000 simply aren't enough to warrant supply. And really, the percentage of a population that wants to listen to Suicide is more likely 0.5. So where does a person go to choose between Giselle or Mutual Appreciation after tweaking out on teak and digging a copy of -- yes, Suicide's 1/2 Alive -- out from the bin? The city. The bigger the better. The more.

More choices. More audiences. More tickets. More art supply stores. More book stores. More skin tones. More religions. More anti-religion. More languages. More homosexuals. More others. More debates. More tolerance. More styles. Of shoes. Of produce. Of performance. Of congee. Of tags. Of pop music. Of haircuts. Cyrillic and Braille. Urdu and Hebrew. Calypso and No Wave. The Chinese grocers who speak in a Trinidadian accent.

Don't give me no "Transit stops at 2AM." Don't give me no "Open 'til midnight." ...No. Always Be Open. This is a city.

But. I love visiting small towns. Like when we went to Owen Sound (pop. 21,753) and convinced Jamie to take us to Smugglers, where the Quebecoise dancer (one of only three dancers that night) promised to give us a group lap dance -- half of us were women -- but reneged when a dude offered her money for post-last-call private time... That shit was outta sight. And when we were in the farmers' market eating lovingly made sandwiches, the town crier pulled a chit from his basket and bellowed, "And the winner is... Carol the potter!" We cheered.

Like when we spent the night at a motel in Armstrong (pop. 4531), and Hartley's Amateur was playing on the TV, and the pony-tailed biker proprietor was bigger than me and my Vietnamese friend and my Indian friend combined. We were a rare trio in that town.

Like when I strayed from my buddy's crib in Novato (pop. 49,500) and wandered into my first California trailer park experience. It was night, I was an old teenager, she was a young teenager, no we didn't do sex, no we didn't neck nor pet. She didn't know who Bruce Lee was. She was very sad. She didn't like her step dad.

I love small towns and want to spend more time in them. Learn from the culture of a community in the hundreds or thousands rather than millions. Feed my insatiable hunger for anthropology and sociology and I'msocuriousabouthumansology. Looking out Jamie's window in Owen Sound, the dark veins of tree branches poking through the endless duvet of undisturbed snow... I fancied the thought of sitting there and writing by pen and typewriter until spring. I could spend a season in the country, isolating myself from the distraction and chatter of the city. Assess how to be a better person. Quiet my mind that is so manic in the city that I often go to sleep after the sun rises. If not a season, then at least a month. At least a week. At least a few days until my hand shoots up by its own volition, wanting taxi. At least a few days until my body goes into fits of carbon-monoxide withdrawal, crying out for another dose of rush hour. At least a few days until I can get trapped in a subway car full of ring tones. Then I'm back in the city, where I belong, where I can jaywalk eight lanes of traffic look out for the streetcars breeze by the opera house zip past the hot dog stands try to run through yet more condo hoardings that constrict the sidewalks like trans fat arteries... But what's the rush? It's 5AM and the noodle houses are still open, as always.



Thursday, January 22, 2009

GEORGE

George Walker Bush had a good thing going. His good thing was going out a door held open by Obama. Even though George was thanked at the top of the inaugural speech and then got totally owned for the subsequent eighteen minutes, he has shown no animosity toward his successor; indeed, he must sincerely appreciate being bailed out. As the Bushes and Obamas stood for their poignant photo-op just before boarding the heli, the former president and former president-elect shared some words. Michelle O. was gracious enough to write on my wall, telling me what they said:

GEORGE: Well, Barry, it's all yours now.
BARACK: Was I too harsh?
GEORGE: It's all good, yo.
BARACK: Keep in touch. Text me, k?
GEORGE: Aight.
(waves to cameras)
GEORGE: Hey Barry...
BARACK: 'Sup?
GEORGE: Thank you.
BARACK: Don't be silly.
GEORGE: No, for reals. Thank you.
BARACK: Peace in the Middle East?
GEORGE: Peace out.

And then he choppered the hell outta Dodge Chrysler. George reclined in his La-Z-Boy aboard Marine One and exhaled, "God bless America. Allah be praised for Obama." He shut his eyes for a daydream, reflected on how much the world hates him, his faint smile exposing his new-found relief: He did not renege, he was not impeached, he did not abdicate. He admitted mistakes, but Obama helped him save face.

Surely, over the years, as his war cry got drowned out by cries of protest and shrapnelled Iraqi babies, George must have re-considered. Even if fleetingly. A flash of doubt. He seems genuinely confident that answering terror with terror was the right choice, but even though he might be the most deluded and naive of men, he is not oblivious to the reasons why he is hated. During eight years of being counselled on actions affecting billions, George must have pondered, at least once, "Am I right?"

Perhaps his flash of doubt had exploded into a fully illuminated epiphany, when one cold crisp night on Pennsylvania Avenue, Jesus told him, "No, George, you are wrong."

GEORGE: Fuck.
JESUS: I know.
GEORGE: I've been wrong all along.
JESUS: Word.
GEORGE: FUCK!
JESUS: Ssssshhh...
GEORGE: Now what do I do?
JESUS: Lay low.
GEORGE: How? I'm the fuckin' President of the United States of America, for Your sake!
JESUS: Ssssshhh...
GEORGE: ...I'm wrong...
JESUS: But don't tell anyone you're wrong. Keep mum.
GEORGE: And just keep saying that I'm right?
JESUS: Right.
GEORGE: For how long?
JESUS: Be patient. You will soon be succeeded by a black man.
GEORGE: For reals?
JESUS: Dude, I don't front.
GEORGE: You've shown me the light...
JESUS: That's my thing.
GEORGE: ...and you want me to keep lying?
JESUS: Be strong. You're a Republican.
GEORGE: Aight. I won't recant I won't recant I won't recant...
JESUS: Good boy. Good wrong boy.
(George sighs)
JESUS: He's also white.

And so George kept mum for the good of his nation. He knew that if he admitted to being wrong, he would let the troops down. Osama would release another video, a three-second clip: "Man, you got hardcore served." Ahmadinejad would turn gay with joy (like, happy). Mostly, he kept mum for himself, to cobble together whatever scraps remained of his defunct legacy. He knew in his soul, with the help of J.C., that he should have shut down Gitmo, let the waterboards dry, brought the troops back home to their families, but he had to remain resolved behind the lectern. George had a mulatto ace up his sleeve. All he had to do was keep his doubts silent. Let Obama execute what George learned he should have done but was not able.

GEORGE: (by BlackBerry) barry, thank u. thnk u 4 being the greatest thing 2 ever happen 2 me. now im free

Monday, January 19, 2009

MICHELLE

I saw news footage of the concert happening in Washington for Obama. During Stevie Wonder's set, Michelle Obama was clappin' and groovin' along, lips pouting and chin jutting out, on beat, all bad ass. It was the first time I'd seen a First Lady move to the music and not look stupid. It was so right.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

MEAD

April 10, 1999
People seem to have too much faith in gravity, walking around with their satchels unzipped.

June 3, 1999
What differentiates between a real hip-hopper, and someone who isn't, is which person jumps up with delight as soon as any song by Young MC is played.

June 5, 1999
He's annoying. Always annoying me. A real annoyance. All he does is annoy me. But he's sitting on the edge of the bench, sitting pigeon-toed, nursing an old plastic salsa container housing his lunch, fettuccine and jarred spaghetti sauce. His cheeks are stained tomatoey-orange.

How could I hate him? I hate myself for hating him. Then I hate myself for caving in.

February 5, 2000
Such an unpleasant, unwelcome, and inconvenient surprise -- like jury duty.

September 23, 2000
During my shower Saturday
cooing of pigeons
hoping it's moaning of woman
masturbating

Saturday, January 10, 2009

CANDY

Up my block is a newspaper box for The Georgia Straight. It never used to be there. It wasn't there when the building behind it was Buy-Low Foods. It wasn't there when Buy-Low became a Chinese supermarket. It wasn't there when the Chinese supermarket became a Vietnamese supermarket. The box is new, just like the gang of hott young things waiting at the bus stop across the street -- rocking tight black jeans, toques, tattoos, channeling Chrissie Hynde and M.I.A. -- who until recently had never been this far south or east. Only a year ago, you would never find The Straight in my hood, which is, let's say, around Victoria and Kingsway. For years immemorial The Straight's "Best of Vancouver" best neighbourhood has been Kitsilano 'cause everybody in Kitsilano can read -- and therefore vote in -- the rag. But in my hood, if your paper wasn't in Chinese, Portuguese, Italian, Punjabi, or Vietnamese, ain't nobody gonna read you. By the way, my Vancouver crib is in Kensington/Renfrew-Collingwood, but you've never heard of my neighbourhood because no one cares. Or cared. Maybe you do now. Now you can pick up a copy of The Straight as you purchase your rice vermicelli and pound of tripe.

There was a joint called Candy Bar on Kingsway that I went to once in 2005. It replaced the ancient E&B Restaurant that was open twenty-four hours and featured the owner clipping his toenails by the front door, leg perched high atop the counter. Across the street is the McDonald's where I spent countless high-school lunch hours watching Joey order Chicken McNuggets and how the hell did this fellow East Van kid afford McNuggets every day, those shits were mad expensive. Look to the corner and there's Pho Bich Nga, which blew up for all the wrong reasons. Half a block down is where I did my first timid tag, in the three-feet-wide space between two buildings for the viewing pleasure of absolutely nobody. Go up the alley and there's Derrick's crib for daily doses of Rap City. Go up a bit more and you're at Brewers Park where rumbles were regular and children got drunk on Labatt Ice every Friday and our classmate mugged an old Chinese lady and I'll tell you more next time. But Candy Bar. It was new. Bands played there. Hot girls with black hair were there. Boys whose jeans were getting progressively tighter were there. You were served wine from a carton there. Finally, a venue that had cheap booze, dope music, hot girls with guitars, all a mere four blocks from my home. I hadn't been so excited about that chunk of Kingsway since getting my wicked undercuts at Cut 'N Blow.

But something felt wrong. Candy Bar was too close to the coffee shop where Nick's dad would join other Portuguese husbands escaping their wives to watch Benfica play in Lisbon. Candy Bar was too close to Midland Liquidators where Cos and I would hoard their new shipments of vintage Krylon. Candy Bar was too close to where W. got shot in the leg and N. almost got shot in the head when the Chinese dudes did a drive-by on our high school at 3.30PM. My neighbourhood wasn't cool. The only thing cool about it was the people who had lived here for decades, quietly building our existence as the anti-Kitsilano. All we wanted to do was raise our local status by adding another lion statue to the gate of our Vancouver Special. We didn't want to be a destination -- our businesses served mostly us and that was enough. And now we were being invaded by Others from Elsewhere because we're cheap and novel.

At Candy Bar, while I was enjoying my boxed merlot (just kidding, it was boxed "red"), my heart welcomed all the young folks while my bitter tongue chided, "This ain't Main Street... You're so far east that you're half-way to Burnaby...". I was proud that these Terry Richardson worshippers were trekking out to my hood. I was disdainful that they wouldn't come here if not for Candy Bar. Mostly, I was disgusted to realise that I too am one of these young folks, that I too prefer drinking in the poorest neighbourhoods in the shittiest bars because they are so uncool. And that is why we are cool.

I wanted to visit Candy Bar again but they closed not long after my only time. Perhaps saying, "Zoe, I'll see you at Kensington/Renfrew-Collingwood!" isn't as cool as saying, "Zoe, I'll see you on Main!" My neighbourhood has continued to change since the end of Candy Bar, and if the Straight newspaper box and American Apparel girls at the bus stop are any indication, there will soon be stacks of Vice in the dozens of pho restaurants around my way. If the young folks truly want to honour my old hood/their new hood, they'd better make sure those copies of Vice are in Vietnamese.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

KNOW

I didn't wanna know. But I did wanna know. Like how some people don't wanna see their doctor 'cause they fear finding out they're positive, but still, they gotta know, you know?

He's the kindest, most open-minded, liberal man I know. My own politics are based on how he raised me. But I couldn't assume anything, take his values for granted. If I asked, would I be plunging our relationship into a frigid ocean of lost respect? I had to know. I rehearsed the question in my head at the dinner table. I was about to say it but he got up for another bowl of rice and ruined my rhythm. He sat down. I re-phrased the question in my head. Pause.

"America's gonna have a new president soon. Do you like him?"

Without hesitation he said, "Yes."


Phew. I can still be my father's son.