Following the encounter with Captain Louie of Arcadia, I press onward in my little venture throughout the quiet streets of Victoria Island, stopping every few feet to snap photos like some kind of an annoying tourist. Naturally the sights and sounds of the Garden City capture the trivial pleasures of a sightseer, what with the pleasantries of a seaside tourist attraction.
I stop by for lunch at a quiet little sushi restaurant, left unoccupied and secluded away from the rest of its citizens. There can be some form of benefit when it comes to flirting and sweet talking with a waitress at certain places. For example, it scores you a delicious wild salmon cream cheese roll as an added bonus.
Weaving through the narrow streets and hidden stairwells around the back alleys of the shops and coffee bars, I enter Bastion Square. Naturally I can’t help resist the temptation of snapping photos of one of its many stores, be they converse or novelty shirts.
That’s when I come across another one of Victoria’s many locals, namely the children of the streets; we call them drifters, the homeless. There’s a pretty tune that caresses the empty square, the kind where one can pick up on the lyrics being some kind of a freestyle ballad. Of course, said ballad might abruptly end with the chorus, “Shit! I broke my G-string!” I imagine that might come out wrong to some people.
“Fucking hell,” I turn my attention towards the guitarist and that is how I meet Paul. “Every musician’s worst fucking nightmare. The G-string. Always fucking breaks.” Judging by the grocery trolley, draped in garbage bags and worn out blankets, it doesn’t take very long to assess his background. “You got a smoke, man?”
“You’re a fucking godsend.” Paul mutters, puffing on the cigarette. “Goddamnit. I broke my G-string.” He blows out the smoke, looks up at me with a smile. “A menthol no less. Nice suit. You’re a man of wealth.” No, I’m just best friends with Value Village. “Nah, I can tell you’re from money. That’s cool.” No, really I’m not. “Whatever you say, man.”
“What brings you out to my living room?” Just looking around, enjoying the day, that’s all. “Right on, right on. Did you like the music up until the fucking cord broke?” Yeah, though I admit the last lines were a bit amusing. Paul laughs, “Motherfucker. You got the time? Wait, hold on, shop’s probably closed.” Probably. “Guess I’ll have to hit the guitar store tomorrow. Wait, fuck, it’s a Sunday. Everything shuts down at 6.”
He glances over at the side towards two passing drifters, “Dick, I fucking broke my G-string!” Dick raises a brow at him, “You broke your what?” Behind him a young woman with tired eyes peers over, “Paul, I walked into that lamp post.” He pushes off the ground, dusting himself off. “I tried to warn you with my song earlier. Angel, watch out for that po- Too late!”
“Thanks for the smoke.” He extends his hand, caked in bits of dirt. I firmly shake it. No harm in that. “I’m Paul.” Amos. “Nice to meet you, Amos.” How’s the rent to the living room, Paul? “Well, the cops don’t mind it but the fucking security guards, always always come in pairs. They’re all like concerned about me staying out here. Gotta keep the streets clean and shit from people like me.” Seriously? “Seriously. The other week I saved $80 for rain pants because,” He leans over for a second, whispering, “I’m smart that’s why. We’re living on the West Coast.” The Wet Coast according to some. “Whatever, man, the West Coast. Everybody comes out here.”
I ask Paul about the situation on the homeless. Paul shakes his head, smiling still, “Man, let me tell you, the cops here can be tough but shit if they’re a lot nicer than Calgary. You see, I’m from Calgary. Fucking cops over there will beat you regardless of why you’re in the streets.” Cops do that. They’re wary of the homeless. “But we ain’t all that fucking bad. I’ve seen cops, you know lady cops, they’re the nice ones. Once I saw this group of teens, all ready to fucking throw down, but fuck it she walked right up to them. These guys are all rooting for a fight and meanwhile she’s just calmly talking away, everybody chills the fuck out, all that’s settled.”
“Another time, way back in the day, I used to deal dope you know.” Yeah? “Yeah. So anyways I’m about 17 and I’m just leaving a flight for [Montreal?]. I got all this fucking dope strapped to me and this was way before the days when they don’t shove their hand up your ass for carrying toothpaste, you know what I mean?” Yeah. “Met this one guy. Real big motherfucker, cop, stops me at customs. Asks me if I’ve got anything on me and I mean, I had long hair and wore fucking leathers, I was a real hardheaded anti-authority – still am – kinda guy.”
“He pulls out his wallet and flashes this huge,” Paul gestures with his hand. “Huge fucking list of credentials. I spot the Interpol somewhere and I mean, fuck, I’m ready to shit myself. He smiles at me when I say no but man, I tell you, he fucking knew I had dope on me. He’s got me pinned.”
“Anyways I ask him what he wants and this guy, this fucking guy, just shrugs and says nothing. I mean he could of busted my ass for sure, but he just fucking waves me along. I mean, goddamnit, close fucking call or what right?” Paul puts out the cigarette and stuffs it into a can nearby his trolley.
“Cops, man, they put em through these fucking, uh, fucking psyche tests and everything before they go through training. I mean yeah there’s good cops, bad cops, you name it. Cops out here just doing their job.” Paul chuckles quietly. “I mean, the fucking hacks running for office passed this new law, wants us all to get outta here, all because this couple – tourists just like you – went off for hot chocolate just down that street, got photos, and outta nowhere these two fucking junkies shivved the husband in the shoulder. All it takes are for a group of idiots to ruin everything for everyone.”
You tell me, Paul, all it takes are a group of imbeciles to fuck everything over and give the media a good reason to shut everything down. He taps knuckles with me at this point. “They don’t give me a hard time much. You? They’d leave you alone. I mean, shit man, look at you. That’s a nice fucking tie you got.” Thanks Paul. “I can tell you’re a neurotic kinda guy.” Sometimes. “Whatever, man, but anyways where was I? Yeah, groups of idiots giving the rest of us a bad fucking name.”
“I mean, people here are nice and all.” He takes another smoke I offer, nodding in thanks. “But fuck if they ain’t scared of what they don’t understand.” Lighting up Paul asks me where I’m from and what I do. I reply that I’m from Vancouver and I’m a student. “Yeah, my parents used to score and deal coke, man, but I just fucking left. The only reason why I’m out here is because I lost my license. You can call this temp work.”
Paul asks me about what I study as a student. I tell him that I’m planning to work in the private security sector, but formerly intended to be a journalist. He asks me why I quit. The truth is I quit because of the work ethics, let alone the way people do anything for a story. “Fuck, that’s the fucking thing about people. It’s all about the money.” Money talks, Paul. “Yeah, but they ain’t got no heart. They’re bitter sons of bitches even with money.” You tell me. He momentarily gestures at a really big knife. “Guys like me ain’t got nothing to lose. I mean I once was under investigation for murder, all because I kicked the shit out of some guy that disappeared the day before, but hey whatever – when you’re under investigation, you can get away with anything as long as its unrelated.”
“I’m a guy that would cut throats if it meant surviving. It’s instinct.” I’m not worried about your knife, Paul. He waves a hand dismissively. “Not gonna do jack to you. Thanks for smoke and hey, you got heart.” We tap knuckles again. “Dig the fucking gloves, got that street look and everything. Anyways, yeah, instinct. Journalists, man, these guys will fucking sit there while people burn. I mean, yeah, I understand if its meaningless to sacrifice yourself but I’d fucking stab you if I found out you leaving a family trapped in a landslide for the sake o a cover.”
I’d probably never live with myself, Paul. “Yeah, I can see that. But fuck it, instinct and all; cops, journalists, people – everyone wants to do good for one another but sticks with a program. Its like Bruce Lee says, uh, what was it? Ju-Jud-Su? Take a bit of everything, what you like best, and make your own program. Cops can talk to people. People can talk to people.” He waves a hand dismissively, “Man, I’m talking too deep.”
Briefly Paul reaches down to his boots and notices the remains of a leftover roach. He offers it to me but I politely decline. “You got a program. What are you doing all the way out here?” Just want to see the world, meet people, maybe write about it. “You’re a writer too? Fuck, so am I. Once I get outta this place, I wanna write this shit down. I want to put you in it.” Paul, thanks, but really that’s okay. “Nah, you got a program of your own.” So do you. “Well then, I’m adding you to my fucking story.” We tap knuckles for the third time.
“Fucking A. Amos, was it?” He inhales the fumes of his joint, cracks me another smile. “Welcome to Victoria. You made my day.”
There’s something oddly refreshing to an outsider about the people here in Victoria. Naturally you learn to avoid the strange types – this coming from a self-admitted pervert, no less – but if the encounters I’ve had so far with Paul and the Captain have shown, perhaps there isn’t any harm in opening oneself to the world beyond preliminary cautions.
People, like Paul said, mean well for one another, that is if anybody is willing to believe it. In this age of cynicism and pessimism, who are we to look down upon others different from ourselves? The Captain said too, people do not see things. Out of the norms regulating society itself, people are afraid not only of what they consider strange – a term that is only relative – yet more than anything are too quick to judge them.
I think that perhaps that is simply the way things are in this day and age. People are very quick to judge others based upon assumptions which by far is the most foolish and self-absorbed thing anyone can do. The same way people consider the alternative to be unnatural, so too do they ignore others that aren’t entirely far apart from themselves; in that people like Paul and the Captain should exist, undergoing constant and perhaps unimaginable hardships, yet still shed some humility to a stranger ought to show that there is room for tolerance all around.
That same afternoon, which I describe further in my next post, may shed more insight as to why it is I’m talking about these particular issues.
Next Update: Wherein yours truly meets the scum of the earth, resisting the temptation for murder; a most stomach-turning moment of disgust, the penultimate encounter with ignorance.