Most days I would sit in a big jacket in my stall in the dark of the parking garage and I would open the gate for people when they drove up in their cars. When they were gone and it was quiet again, my brain would be full of this image of a spaceship screaming towards Earth, burning up as it entered the atmosphere. I wanted to shed all of the pieces I no longer needed. To burn away until I was almost nothing. I don’t know, other times I’d just watch pornography but not jerk off. I appreciated everything.
Today I sat in Greyhound bus in Ottawa; my big jacket with my cold face amongst the heaving bodies and stale air, and suddenly the bus moved and we were on our way to another place. It felt like I was in the middle of a period of great transformation. I had stolen five hundred dollars and two grams of hash from my roommate. I was going to Montreal.
Outside of the terminal there was snow and cold, and the sidewalks were blue from rock salt. I breathed deeply and it felt sharp and good. I loved it. Matt was there to pick me up. He lived here now, and I had called him from the bus and sold him on old friendships and good times. We hugged and called each other shitheads and talked about how good it was to see each other and we didn’t acknowledge the distance between us. He looked clean shaven.
I didn’t bring any luggage. I saw him notice this and begin to look worried so I gave him another great big hug before he could talk about it. He walked me through the crowd past buildings that were brown and jagged, avant-garde and ugly. That’s the art museum. This is the subway station. I didn’t trust it. The signs were in French. He handed me a weekend metro pass and we walked into one of the brown buildings and submerged. The whole ride, Matt was talking about his new city – he was effusive in his praise, using words like “history” and “culture” and “Leonard Cohen”.
I remembered a night from when were in undergrad and the group of us took a bunch of mushrooms to watch the sunset from the Prince of Wales bridge. When the sun went down it looked like the sky above us was on fire. And we looked down and the water below us was on fire too. It felt like the end of days was coming, like this enormous hellfire was reaching out to embrace us and there was no escape. Matt looked at us and shouted out, “If we’re all gonna die then I want you to know that none of this has been worth it! None of it! You’re all pieces of shit!”
He jumped into the water and he was fine. The sun that night continued to set and instead of armageddon it just got dark. It looked like he was doing well for himself now.
He took me to his apartment and it was a long rectangle of open space and soft white light. There was an exposed brick wall and minimal furnishing. By the kitchen with the gas stove and the new fridge there were sliding glass doors that led to an outdoor seating area that was snowed in. Matt pointed out that in the upper left corner of the view you could see a small ‘+’ that was the cross on top of Mount Royal. The rest of it was blotted out by neighbouring apartments. He said that Montreal was the last affordable Great Canadian City and I said I had read that in a magazine, but I was lying. I was waiting to ask him about doing hot knives. There was a picture of him and his wife Lauren that was framed on the wall. It was from their wedding. They were holding each other happily and there were white flowers in the background. They had met in law school. She was hard-working and relentlessly cheerful in her disposition and so we hated each other. I asked Matt where she was and he told me she was working late. I asked Matt if he wanted to do hot knives.
We had sunken into the couch with blank smiles on our faces and scorched knives in the sink when Matt remembered he made dinner reservations for us. We walked through the streets at night with faces red as our bloodshot eyes, in the kind of cold that makes everything crunch. The restaurant, when we got there, was burnished metal, big windows, and tasteful wooden accents, a chalkboard menu written in elegant cursive handwriting and no prices – it was unadorned by branding, which meant expensive.
The people in the restaurant looked pleased and inert and they chortled away in their language. I didn’t know what anything was. Matt spoke casually to the waiter and a man came out from around the kitchen and made a show of presenting us with a bottle of red wine. He uncorked the wine and took Matt’s wine glass and poured a mouthful in and placed it in front of Matt. Matt picked up the glass by its stem and how he drank this wine was he swirled the glass around and brought it up to his nose and closed his eyes and inhaled through his nose. Then he opened his eyes and looked at the wine and brought it to his mouth and closed his eyes again and took a long slow sip. When he was done he nodded.
Now this motherfucker came up to me with the wine and I was too high to be around all of these rich people. After he poured it I wondered if I could have the same experience as Matt, so I did what he did. I swirled it around and I brought it up to my nose and inhaled and then took a long slow slip. But to me it just smelled like wine and tasted like wine. I started to drink quickly.
When it was quiet again I asked Matt what I should order and he said poutine so that’s what I did. To be honest I wasn’t sure if I liked food anymore. I mostly ate breakfast wraps from the coffee place on the way to the parking garage, and if I got hungry again I would buy another coffee and if I was hungry again at home I would pick at the leftover shawarma platters my roommate would leave in the fridge. My mouth felt like it was always full of acid. My diet made getting high more efficient, and I was becoming gaunt but in a fashionable way.
To say something, I told Matt that I was training for a marathon. I had been really into telling people that I was training for a marathon ever since I watched this video of a person in this spandex bodysuit undressing. It was this black room; all you could see was this person and their suit and it was like this tight blue androgynous cocoon. As the camera got closer you could see by their eyes that it was a woman. And then she started to unzip the suit and she took the head part of her suit off and this long blonde hair flowed out of it. It made me think that we can all be anything we want. Two naked men walked into the frame of the video and then it was pornography. In the parking garage I thought that I would better myself by becoming a marathon runner, and I did research online and bought nike running shoes at full price and a grey sweatshirt that said “CHAMP” on it, with the quotation marks, in welcoming letters that arced like a rainbow across my chest. I told my roommate and my dad and my manager at the parking garage that I was training for a marathon. Everyone is so happy when you tell them you are running a marathon. Or not happy, but they act like they are impressed with you, and it’s nice. My stuff came in the mail and I tried to run once but it was stupid. There was nowhere to go. Still, I started to wear the sweatshirt around to show that I was serious, and it became something to talk about with people. “It’s harder to train in the winter,” I said now, “but the key is to invest in good crampons.” I nodded to emphasize the importance of crampons.
Matt told me it was inspiring that I was training for a marathon.
We got lost in old memories. We talked about the time we did thanksgiving for our other roommates but we got too day drunk and fell asleep and almost burnt the apartment building down. It would have burned fast too – that apartment was littered with balled up Subway wrappers like so much kindling. Matt’s dad died when he was a kid and his mom never had much money so he worked at Subway for all of undergrad, and the smell became a part of him, it lingered on him like he was haunted. I remember I’d go to his Subway when it was quiet and I’d make logic puzzles out of convoluted sandwich orders to help him with his LSAT. He didn’t need the help anymore though – the waiter was coming with our food.
I looked at my poutine and there was this strange grey meat on it. I asked what it was and Matt told me “Foie gras.” They make foie gras by sticking a feeding tube into a duck, and force feeding it until its liver is big and fatty. They do this for a hundred days, sticking the feeding tube into the duck and feeding it against its will, and then they kill it and take out its liver. I knew this because when I felt bad about watching too much pornography I would watch a video about factory farming. I was curious about the foie gras though. Maybe it was worth it.
I took a bite and it made me sad. It was this smooth rich blankness, but it was just a texture. I wanted to eat a breakfast wrap. I sat picking fries and watching my food congeal into this brown-grey sludge. I looked at it and thought of soft splayed legs and sexual pumping and food tubes shoved into baby animals and rows of ducks in tiny cages.
Matt, overtaken by hunger from the hash, was drinking wine and eating lobster pasta with an intense focus. After a long pause, Matt looked at me like he had something important to say, some big epiphany that he wanted to share with me. He told me there was something that had been on his mind a lot lately, and so he told me a story and it went like this:
THE BLUE SHIT STORY
Lauren’s law firm has this famous bake sale. It was this big charity thing to raise money for cystic fibrosis or diabetes, he couldn’t remember. The partners at the firm took it very seriously though, it raised a lot of money and made them all look like pillars of the community. Lauren was an excellent baker, and she wanted to impress the partners at the firm. She wanted to make something that was decadent, artful, and difficult to bake, so she made macaroons. They were perfect blue clouds that tasted of chocolate and raspberries. People at the bake sale loved the macaroons. They sold out, and therefore they were making a difference for the people with the cystic fibrosis or the diabetes.
It took Lauren a day to realize what she had done. She used a lot of blue food colouring to make the macaroons the right colour, and now Lauren was in the bathroom, and she had just taken a shit, and it was blue. Matt ate some of the macaroons and his shit was blue too. All of these lawyers who had loved the macaroons were going to the bathroom and looking at their blue shit and they all knew why their shit was blue. All of these people who were supporting the people who had the cystic fibrosis or the diabetes were dropping these big blue hosses. Lauren was embarrassed. She wondered how she could go to work and practice law and also be the person that made everyone in the office shit blue. She was worried about getting a nickname like Blue Shit Lauren. Like she would be in courtroom and the judge would call up Blue Shit Lauren to present her closing arguments. But she went to work the next day and nobody ever talked about it.
Matt said he thought life was like that blue shit. He said life was this strange and wonderful collective experience that nobody was talking about.
He spun a tumorous mass of spaghetti around the tines of his fork, and shoveled it into a wide open mouth. I thought it was a terrible fucking story, like of course Laura would make macaroons, and who even cared what happened to a bunch of lawyers, and now all I could feel was foie gras lingering in my mouth and maybe it was the wine or the hash or I don’t know, but I felt the saliva pooling and I looked at the floor and one moment it was fine and the next it was covered with so many chunks of grey mush, so much reddish bile, and I felt like I would never stop heaving.
Outside of the restaurant, I was breathing out puffs of air while snow fell around me in fat flakes. Matt was still inside, smoothing things over and apologizing.
There was a concert we went to in our final year of law school. It was a reunion show in a small club, some punk band Matt was into. When the lead singer came out he had this substitute teachers head attached to a substitute teacher’s body – kind of frumpy and washed out. It was shit – the band was too drunk to do anything, and after four songs the substitute teacher just set his guitar up by the amp to generate a wall of feedback, and he walked off the stage to leer at the young girls who were waiting by the bar. After the show Matt kept apologizing to us. I really enjoyed it though. I think it was the first time I understood getting old.
Matt came outside and he looked at me, only now where before his face was flushed and happy, he just looked sad. He asked me if I needed help.
I told him I did. I told him I needed the kind of help I used to give at Subway. I needed help to go to shitty rich restaurants to feast on suffering, and that I needed so much of his help to be so pretentious and empty.
And still he did not jettison and burn off and fly away. He told me that he was worried about me – that I looked sick, and that he was scared for me, and that he wanted to get me help if I needed it. He told me that he worked hard to get the life he had, and that it made him happy.
I didn’t talk for a long time, but when I did I asked Matt if he thought that the average person could step into his life and do a better job with it. He asked what I was talking about. I took the five hundred dollars from my pocket and told him that it was my fee, and that I could free him. He looked at me one last time and left.
I was relieved. My throat was burning from the vomit and there was so much more that I could be doing. I had always felt like a patient zero in search of a disease.
Sometimes when I pictured the future, I saw myself as the King of this Great Pile of Garbage. I was seated on a mound of garbage bags, and it was so comfortable. People would come to me and seek my advice, and I would tell them to throw it all out. My garbage empire would grow and grow. Other times I could only picture blackened wood, embers fading into smoke. I was okay with that too. As for Montreal, it was alright. I walked by a costume store that was selling masks of babies and horses and dogs, and in the display window they were all perched on mannequins of male models. I walked by bars and saw young people who moved around as lithe and panicked as gazelles.
I had been drinking and was now great friends with these two punks. They both had shaved heads and leathery skin. They were older but spoke English. One of them had a head that was dented like a soup can. And the other one had a growth on the right side of his forehead, and that was how I could tell them apart. Otherwise it was a mess of patchwork denim and bad tattoos. I was buying us quarts of Fifty because I was rich. Quarts of Fifty were great because they came in these big bottles and were served with a tiny glass on the side, and you could poor from the big bottle into the tiny glass and feel like some kind of foreign dignitary. The guy with the dented head was telling us about how he got all of these dents.
HOW I GOT ALL OF THESE DENTS
“So I’m waiting at the Bonaventure Metro, right?” he says. “And, wait, shit, you don’t know. The Bonaventure Metro is brick everything. Even the benches. With the heat from the trains it feels like you are trapped in this great furnace.” I nodded. “So I was there waiting for my train and I look across the tracks and I see this deer. It’s just standing there on the tracks opposite from me, and I look at the deer and the deer looks at me and then it goes back to grazing. And I look around me because there’s a fucking deer on the metro, and I am telling people, regardez, c’est un fucking deer but nobody is doing anything. Actually, they are looking at me like I’m the crazy one but I know what I see. And then I hear the rumble of the train coming, and I get really nervous because the deer is right there, yes? It’s still on the tracks and it’s not moving. It just looks up again and stares right at me, and now I can see the light from the train, and there is more noise and you can feel the rush of air, and I just walked right onto the tracks.”
“Bullshit you walked right onto the tracks,” I said.
“It’s what I did!” he said. “I walked onto the tracks and I reach out for the deer only it’s gone, it was like it had never been there at all, and now the only sound in my head is the sound of the train, and I look and the train hits me smack, right here!” – he smacks the middle of his forehead with his palm – “and that was it, that was all I could remember. I woke up later in a hospital, and my head was covered in bandages. I became very famous in Montreal for a time as the man who survived getting struck by a train. They let me shake Jean Béliveau’s hand.”
His friend, the other punk, laughed and said “You got those dents in a bar fight don’t be an idiot.” Then they were both laughing and I was laughing too. I felt comfortable with these old punks.
I told them about how I had lost my job at the parking garage because one day I just left the gate open and went home because it didn’t matter. I talked about my roommate and how I was always stealing his food and how I owed him two months rent and had stolen all of his hash and money to come here, but that I’d left the rest of my hash at my friend’s apartment. I asked them where they bought drugs because it looked like they knew where to buy good drugs. They asked what I was into and I said that I pictured my body as this purification plant. I wanted to take in the world’s poison and process the chemicals and feel good or bad or powerful or ecstatic or tired or sick and leave only piss and shit smoke behind.
The guy with the growth on his head never told us about why he had the growth on his head but we all agreed about the drugs, and so we left the bar together to go and buy them.
We walked past portuguese chicken places and butcher shops and rows of houses with walk up stairs. It was late and people were leaving bars and clubs, pushing past us in the streets with their jackets full of the feathers of dead baby geese. The punks talked about hockey riots and jaywalking tickets and how Montreal was a city built on old garbage dumps, nobody knew how many, they just paved over them and built schools and parks and houses. We walked down sidewalks narrowed like clogged arteries from snow. I was impressed by the state of disrepair I encountered. There was exposed piping and holes in the street. I wondered if my friends the old punks were going to kick the shit out of me and steal my money but I didn’t care. We walked for so long that all feeling left my body.
We stopped in front of a house. It had white siding that was yellowing at its edges and windows that were covered in garbage bags and tape. This was the place. They walked up to the door and knocked on it and it opened. I couldn’t see past them into the house. They held open the door and I walked towards them. I could only make out curdled wallpaper and a soft blue light inside of the house. I walked inside. It felt like a church to me.
I smoked something crystalline out of a foil packet and I didn’t feel like I was drowning in the undertow of euphoria, I didn’t get to watch my spirit hover over the Lachine canal while my body stumbled alongside watching, and I didn’t get to meet the lizard king of my third eye. I smoked it all up and sat there with my head of asbestos, and my ashed cigarette body, but this was normal.
I looked over at the punks, who were passed out inside of their own heads like monks at peace with the world and I rifled through their pockets but found nothing except receipts and lint. I walked around the room kicking things over, knocking down lamps and picture frames and breaking glass. I punched at a wall but it didn’t make a hole like I wanted, it just really hurt my hand. I was bored of everything.
I left the house and stepped into the midnight blue of the sky and the yellow of street lights. The quiet of the street was interrupted by the crack of a drum and the sound of trumpets, and I watched as a procession of revellers marching in a dance down the street, in the middle of the road. They were wearing strange masks and thrift store clothing – tattered plaid jackets or dirty leather; nobody was dressed alike but it still looked like they were in uniform. Their leader was wearing a rubber face with cut-out eyes and I couldn’t place who it was supposed to be. He had a snare drum, and behind him there were women in animal masks with cut out mouths swaying and making cheerful noises with their trumpets. Behind them was a crowd of people – thirty or so men and women, all dancing behind them, shooting confetti into the sky. It was a cacophony of noise and jubilation. I watched as they came down the road, but when they got to where I was standing in front of the house everything stopped. There was no more marching or drums or sound, just confetti slowly tracing seesaw patterns in the air as it drifted down onto the street and a bunch of masks looking at me.
I said “English?” out loud and there was no answer.
I said ““If we’re all gonna die then I want you to know that none of this has been worth it! None of it! You’re all pieces of shit!” and I dove into the snow on the sidewalk and writhed around in it and got snow down my neck and back but it was still quiet on the street.
I got back up and looked at them and the grotesque shadows cast by their masks in the light of the street, and said “I don’t know what you want.”
A child in a jester’s costume broke through the crowd and grabbed my hand and pulled me in. The people in their masks patted me on the back and shook my hand and wordlessly welcomed me into their ranks. Everything smelled like tobacco, but there was something sharp behind it, like vinegar. The drumming started again, the quick rat-tat-tat of the snare, and we were dancing through the streets again.
We moved through the city past the fluorescent lights of Jean Coutu pharmacies and parks with trees that were collapsing under the snow. We passed under bridges and through neighbourhoods where houses were being demolished to make way for unfinished condos. When we passed people on the street they cheered us on. I thought of the mother I saw the day I left the gate up at my parking garage job, of her rusted green Corolla and car full of plastic bags and children pulling at her from the back seat and how it felt to leave the gate up. Of how it felt to see the spandex suit unzip in that movie, that moment of shedding your skin, and how I could never find it again afterwards; how some days I thought that I’d just dreamed it, but when I pictured it in my head it was so real. And we danced through the streets in the dark, and I felt a sense of belonging. More and more, people in the street applauded our marching.
As I scanned the faces in the crowd, I saw one that I recognized as my own. The face was my own dumb face, but it the cheeks were fuller, the eyes a bit brighter. The man looked like me but different – he was put together, a nice peacoat and an expensive haircut, but he was less interesting somehow. I broke off from the people in their masks and I approached this man and he said “Avez-vous besoin d’aide?” and I took whatever money was left in my pockets and thrust it into his hands and hurried back to the revellers, who again clapped their arms around my back and welcomed me with open arms as we moved down Rue de la montage past rows of old houses and construction sites and garages, galleries and glass buildings reflecting nothing but the cold. We continued to march until we approached the mouth of a tunnel. The man with the drum walked up to each of us and shook our hands and when he got to me he took of his mask and I understood. And he went back to the mouth of the tunnel and started drumming again and he led us inside, and soon there was only a perfect darkness. I reached out with my hand and felt for the person in front of me, and I found them and we walked together, and another hand reached for my back and we all walked like that in the dark, linked to each other. We followed the echoing sounds of the drums, and the story of the tunnel was this: as I kept on walking through the fertile, fetid darkness, I told myself I didn’t feel any different, but I didn’t know anymore if this was true.