Monday, November 11, 2013

ReNEW SENSATIONS: Fly Into the Sun

For the longest time, I thought this was just a version of the Velvets instrumental outtake "Ride Into the Sun", which was always a favourite of mine. A lot of unused Velvets material ended up on solo Lou records. "Ride Into the Sun", though, let's talk about that for a while. What a gorgeous song. The guitar line is just great, and then the fuzztone comes on and, you know, sometimes I just want to listen to pop music without words and this is what I want to listen when I want that, and then the piano kicks in the fuzz and the piano and it's not crowded, but there's the melody and the solo, and ahhh.
Apparantly, Lou did record that on his 1972 solo debut, which I'm about to listen to for the first time ever. Gimme a second here. I've heard the Dean Wareham version, so I knew there were lyrics, but this is my first time hearing Lou's lyrical take on "Ride Into the Sun." I dunno, what do you want me to say? The Luna version is better, okay? The Luna version kinda just lays some of the lyrics over the instro version. I mean, that first Lou Reed album, it's never done a thing for me. Except, ah, the three songs that were on the boxset, which, I think, were all Velvets leftovers. A "(somebody) Says", "Ocean", and um, "I Can't Stand It". But, man, Dean Wareham has basically made his career off being able to capture that fantastic guitar sound of the original "Ride Into the Sun", so, like, it's his song now.

But that's not even the song we're here to talk about. But, damn, now I just want to stop and listen to "Ocean" and decide which version is better. I'm leaning toward the solo Lou (soLOU) version, because of how much more produced it is, and it's a song that benefits from more production. It's a Meat Loaf song, really, and I love it. Oh, yeah, the Velvets just were not equipped to deal with this song. I mean, even as big as its done on the Lou Reed album, it's not big enough. It should be bigger. It should be, I don't know, performed by Queen, but sung by Pavarotti, just big, you know. I dunno, it's one of the few Velvets tracks I've never heard covered. With good reason. The kind of band that wants to cover a Velvet Underground song, in 1992 or today, is not equipped to deal with "Ocean". Maybe Billy Idol during his Cyberpunk phase, right? That, at least, would have been interesting.
Okay, so "Fly Into the Sun" has nothing to do with "Ride Into the Sun" or "Ocean", except maybe a shared delicateness in their guitar lines. Okay. We got that. This song, then. If you've read Laurie Anderson's account of Lou's last moments, you'll think about that when you listen to this. Thirty years ago! What was hypothetical became concrete! The world! Imagination! WILL POWER!

ReNEW SENSATIONS: What Becomes a Legend Most

You put this song on and you expect you're about to sold some fancy European vacuum cleaner. Or some weird chocolate/hazelnut confection that you don't even think about 11 months of the year. That sharp string hit is just, you know, all over class-conscious advertising. Which, I guess, is what this song is about in a way.
This is my least favourite of Lou's vocal styles, like he's pushing his voice out form under his jaw somewhere. I don't know, maybe he's trying to sing like Paul Anka or Frankie Valli or Famke Janssen, it's a preening affection that sounds as awful as I imagine its supposed to.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

ReNEW SENSATIONS: Doin' the Things That We Want To

I spent two years at the mostly forgotten Saskatchewan School of Performing Arts. I was a drama major. I was 13 the first year, 14 the second. It was pretty intense and I kind of burned out on it by the end of the second year. By the spring of 1992, I just wanted to hang out with my friends.
We moved to Regina at the beginning of the following school year. I had some good times in drama class and the school play one year and was on the Improv team. But that was all such kids stuff after two years with Raymon Montalbetti.We did an hour of breathing and movement every class. Just breathing and moving. Sometimes guttural shouts. We didn't do a lot of scenes. We didn't learn how to memorize scripts. We learned how to breathe and how to move, how to be aware of yourself. We workshopped performances. We created our own shit. The few plays we did do, by end of my first year, there were only two of us left as drama majors, so we had to work with that. Waiting for Godot. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. True West.

I ended up in London, Ontario six years later. Chad was going to school there and he and his roommate had paid their rent in advance. His roommate dropped out and moved back home, so Chad suggested I come live in his basement suite for free and become a famous novelist or something. I don't remember what the plan was, but it wasn't very well thought out. I had spent the winter working in pasta restaurant and had had my first few record reviews published and I had a bit of money saved up, so I figured I might as well. We spent a lot of nights in bars and clubs at first. But it wasn't my scene. I had moved out east to be an intellectual and I didn't know how to talk to these people. One night we got home and turned on the TV and there was Gary Sinise and John Malkovich on some PBS station doing True West. We sat down and watched the whole damn thing.

This song says a lot about Lou Reed. He puts himself beside Sam Shepard and Martin Scorsese, and, y'know, he's earned it. At their best and at their worst, by 1984, these three boomer dudes have produced a few unqualified classics in their respective disciplines and would keep on doing interesting work that placed a high value on the integrity of the artist's vision without entirely discounting commercial prospects for decades to come. The song also reminds us that Lou Reed is a critic. People talk about what he said about Christgau on Take No Prisoners. People talk about his feud with Lester Bangs. The guy was a critic.
Groucho Marx wrote letters to T.S. Eliot. "I wrote this song 'cause I'd like to shake your hand..."

Saturday, November 09, 2013

ReNEW SENSATIONS: New Sensations

The book is called Go, Dog. Go! But in the book, the line is "Go, dogs. Go!" But the album is called New Sensations, and the song is called "New Sensations". This matters. Everything matters.
"Two years ago today I was arrested on Christmas Eve," Lou sings. The singer sings. Is it Lou? Two years ago today. That means the TODAY of the song is also Christmas Eve. Does the whole album take place on Christmas Eve? Is CHRIST the NEW SENSATION? ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THIS, LOU?
"New Sensations" closes out Side One, which is, by far, the weaker of the two sides, though this song does a lot to balance the scales (especially remembering that "What Becomes a Legend Most" is on Side 2, if you switched that for this in the sequence, I might never listen to Side One again). Remember the misogynist Old Testament references on "My Red Joystick"? Hey, hey. This is starting to come together now.
"I want the principles of a timeless muse," he says. These are the Beatitudes of Lou. The choir from "Turn To Me" is here. Lou's guitar is clear as an angel's harp. "I want to eradicate my negative views."
I rode to Pennsylvania near the Delaware Gap
Sometimes I got lost and had to check the map
I stopped at a roadside diner for a burger and a Coke

There were some country folk and some hunters inside
Somebody got themselves married and somebody died
I went to the jukebox and played a hillbilly song 

The parallels between Lou's Christmas Eve motorcycle ride and the ministry of Christ are fairly obvious. But there were no product placements in the Gospels. It's not just the Coke mentioned above, Lou also namechecks his Honda GPZ. Lou had just done a print and TV campaign for Honda scooters. A year later, at Farm Aid, Lou swapped out Honda for Harley in the song. I thought he was just playing to the audience, but in a 1984 BBC TV appearance he wore what looks a lot like a Harley Davidson t-shirt. Who knows? The point is that this guy, this artist, this guy who wrote hits-on-demand and "Heroin", this guy learned about show biz from Andy Warhol, namedrops a sponsor, possiby two, in a song with heavy Christlike overtones.
This is a really amazing song, despite the fact that the arrest he mentions in the first verse is never brought up again. Chekhov wept.


I find it hard to believe that "Turn To Me" has 22,400 plays on YouTube. "Busload of Faith (Live on Letterman)" only has 19,072 plays. Lou's "Busload" mullet is superb. I would rather watch 1989 Lou comb his mullet than listen to "Turn To Me" 22,401 times. I would rather contemplate the image below than listen to "Turn To Me" 22,402 times.

I would rather eat a bowl full of kale than listen to "Turn To Me" 22,403 times. I would rather watch that entire David Bowie/Louis Vuitton commercial than listen to "Turn To Me" 22,404 times. I would rather ghostwrite Suddenly Susan Fan Fiction than listen to "Turn To Me" 22,405 times. I would rather stand up in a crowded room, maybe an airport, and shout "why would you ever listen to 'Satellite of Love' when you can listen to 'Coney Island Baby'?" than listen to "Turn To Me" 22,406 times. I would rather sit down to a three course meal with someone who'd just seen Taxi Driver for the first time at 42 than listen to "Turn To Me" 22,407 times. I would rather write a join a barbershop quartet than listen to "Turn To Me" 22,408 times. I would rather become tour manager to a very successful barber shop quartet than listen to "Turn To Me" 22,409 times. I would rather take a staff position reviewing new barbershop quartet albums for America's leading barbershop quartet magazine Greater Than Three than listen to "Turn To Me" 22,410 times.
It's not actually a bad song. Fernando Saunders's bass, which doesn't even come in until 1:30, is really great. And the tone on Lou's guitar is fantastic. Again, he'd perfect a lot of this stuff on New York, but man, just the right amount of distortion, and then the choir "ooohs" in on the line "if your father is freebasing and your mother turning tricks" is pretty fucking dynamite, too.
I don't know if you saw that New Statesman column "Lou Reed: Why no one wanted to write his obituary", but it's pretty much garbage from the premise down and not really worth addressing, but we're here and lets do it anyway, okay? Let's not pretend we're good people, above such pettiness, alright?
Okay, so you've got this paragraph:
I often wondered if his tightly set mouth, was – like Scott Walker under that baseball cap – the demeanour of someone who’d done something significant 40 years ago and spent the rest of their life imprisoned by it, wearing the legend heavily like a tortoise shell, dragging it around until it became everything he stood for. For people like that, life gets harder the older you get, as your moment of creativity recedes into the distance and your audience gets younger, more adulatory and more banal.
And, I mean, I hate to, you know, be a fucking superfan, but have you even listened to Lou Reed? Are you aware that he made something like 30 solo albums after leaving the Velvet Underground and that he very rarely repeated himself creatively? I mean, listen to The Bells and then listen to Street Hassle. Listen to Mistrial and then listen to Set the Twilight Reeling. Geez. Does this sound someone weighed down by having "done something significant 40 years ago"?

"Turn To Me" is no "Egg Cream". "Turn To Me" is no "Coney Island Baby". "Turn To Me" is no "Leave Me Alone". "Turn To Me" is no "Down at the Arcade". "Turn To Me" is no "Mama's Got a Lover". "Turn To Me" is no "Caroline Says". "Turn To Me" is no "Disco Mystic". "Turn To Me" is no "Hookywooky". "Turn To Me" is no "Hookywooky". "Turn To Me" is no "Hookywooky".


Okay, now we're getting into it.
First of all, this is an update of "Blue Suede Shoes", where the singer itemizes things he doesn't mind losing at the end of a relationship, hinting that being rid of the person he's addressing is worth losing his worldly possessions over. Dolly Parton uses the same technique on her brilliant "I'm Gone" with the twist that SHE'S THE ONE who's leaving which puts it more in the tradition of Kiss Off Songs like Dylan's "It Ain't Me" or Johnny Cash's "Understand Your Man"(which has a mini-inventory line: "You can give my other suit to the Salvation Army, and everything else I leave behind").

Here, in addition to his pretty typical list of shit he can do without (his Porsche, some rugs, the kids), Lou gives us a bizarre retelling of the Book of Genesis, "Eve kissed Abel, that's how he got murdered by Cain", before turning to address Eve herself (and maybe he's been talking to her all along? We'll revisit this on the title track.), and here's where the innuendo gets really bizarre. He tells her "take a bite of my apple" and then begs her to leave him his Red Joystick. This is Supreme Lou here, with dick metaphors piled up on top of each other and a heavy come on to the Original Woman.
UNLESS Lou is really talking about a red joystick and not a "red joystick". Lou Reed, after all, was a notorious gearhead (Metal Machine Music, after all, is just a guy so enamoured with his electronic devices he believes even their accidental or incidental sounds are sacred) and what's a joystick but a great piece of gear? Some of you are probably asking, what's a joystick?
The joystick was king until what, 1987/1988, when the OG Nintendo system came out and replaced video games central phallus motif with something more like nipples, effectively changing gaming from masturbation substitute to foreplay substitute.
There's a story out there somewhere about how Miles Davis was a Robocop fan. But who isn't? So why wouldn't Lou Reed love video games, especially in 1984 when they were simultaneously futuristic and primitive? What video games did you like in 1984, Lou Reed? Did you like Pitfall? Burger Time? Dig Dug? YOU NEVER TOLD US.
So you have to at least allow for the possibility then that "take a bite of my apple" is about his dick, and "my red joystick" is about his red joystick.
You also have to really consider the underlying misogyny of the song. "Eve" in the song, and across many other appearances, can be understood to stand for all women, and the Singer here just wants women to leave him alone so he can play his video games. Plus ca change, and all that.
There's also the novelty of this song, or at least of its title and likely central metaphor. "Pac-Man Fever" came out in 1982. New Sensations came out in April, 1984. I don't know what the production cycle was like on the album, but it's hard to imagine "Pac-Man Fever" wasn't somewhere on Lou's mind when he wrote this song, especially when you remember he honed his songwriting chops churning out knock-off hits for Pickwick Records.

But you can't dismiss the song as mere novelty either. After all, the album was called New Sensations, but the LP cover showed Lou playing a video game (of himself!) with a RED JOYSTICK. The Red Joystick matters! In a lot of ways, News Sensations is a first draft of New York (in the same way that Homicide is a first draft of The Wire). Lou is starting to perfect rock & roll as Creative Non-Fiction. "My Red Joystick", New Sensations, I don't know. Wikipedia says "critics and listeners alike took note of a change in the songs as being more upbeat and fun than much of Reed's prior work." Which is kind of bullshit, because "My Red Joystick" is a really angry song, and all of Lou Reed's songs are fun, especially the nasty ones. This was Lou's third album with bass player Fernando Saunders, and that probably had an effect on the "upbeat" sound of the record as much as anything else. I dunno.
"My red joystick, my red joystick, all I'm asking you to leave me is my little red joystick," he's probably talking about his dick.

ReNEW SENSATIONS: Endlessly Jealous

I started going to shows at 14. Early 1992. It was a good time to have a basic education in Lou Reed. Everybody played Velvets covers. The Ecchoing Green did "Heroin", I Am Joe's Lung did "Sweet Jane", and there was another band, made up of older kids from my high school, female bass player, who did "What Goes On". One time, at a school assembly, they played "Touch Me, I'm Sick".

I ran away from home one night not long after my 15th birthday. I spent part of the night wandering a new suburban housing development with some friends. Half-made houses around man-made lakes. I'd never seen anything like it. Five years later, I'd spend a whole summer in such places, one province over, sanding drywall in and around Calgary. But that night, it was like landing on Mars and finding the ruins of a future civilization.
I had my first samosa that night. A bunch of us had gone back to U's house and we hung out in his basement, watching Sonic Youth videos. I remember the heat at first, then the savouriness. I loved the flaky crust and the potato and peas and wondered how I'd missed out on this all my life. It was a transformative snack.
I was looking through U's CD and record collection. He was three years older than me. There was so much I didn't recognize. But there was no Lou Reed. "Don't you know the Velvet Underground is the most important band of the 20th Century?"
"No, this is the most important band of the 20th Century," U said and put on a 7-inch of "Touch Me, I'm Sick".


In the morning I got a ride home from P or S or G back to the West Side. The crew I ran with that summer came from all over the city. We met on city buses, parkade rooftops, basement arcades, under bridges, and occasionally, at punk rock shows at the Unitarian Centre.
I moved away at the end of the summer of 1992. All those friendships remained as they were that summer. We never got bored of each other or sick of each other's bullshit. Everyone else had their typical fallings out, and most of them worked it out, but I never had to work past the thrills and wonders and discoveries into the real tedium of maintaining a friendship over a Saskatoon winter.
I learned to learn from people that summer. I learned to look for the mystery in empty lots and showhomes. I learned how make a hashpipe from an empty soda can. I learned that you should always listen to someone you admire's favourite band. I learned that you should always be around people you admire. I learned the limitations of my own life experience. I learned there was more to life than Lou Reed.
A week later, I went to Sam the Record Man in Midtown Plaza and bought Lou's Between Thought and Expression box set. On cassette. I think it was $30. A huge investment. Totally worth it.

ReNEW SENSATIONS: I Love You Suzanne

I have been writing about Lou Reed since I was 13 years old.
In 8th Grade, our big Language Arts assignment was to compile our own poetry anthology. I think we needed 40 or 50 poems. Serious stuff. And there were limits on how many poems from a single poet you could use, how many song lyrics you could use; and then requirements like so many had to be from Canadian poets, so many had to be written by you. I cut class to spend the day at the Frances Morrison Central Library, pulling poetry books off the shelves, reading them, picking one, maybe two from a volume.
I never talked about the anthology with any of my class mates. I think that might have during a time in my life when I was on the outs with my friends. It happened.

From about 12 or 13 on, I sounded a lot like my dad over the phone. I could phone into school and excuse myself for the day. I didn't do it often, but I did it. Some days were just meant to be spent at the library. Independent study, I might have called it if I'd ever paused to consider what I was doing. But so, the reverse then also applied. Sometimes my dad sounded like me over the phone. Like when I was on the outs with my friends and they called up and my dad answered and they called him a bunch of names and then hung up. I must have been listening in on the extension, or maybe I was standing right next to the phone. I recognized the caller's voice and I recognized the laughs in the background.
A quarter century later, I don't know. I don't worry about it. I mainly remember spending the last couple of months of 8th Grade on my own. Listening to Lou Reed & Tom Waits tapes and walking in the rain. One night I put Frank's Wild Years in the Walkman and walked farther than I'd ever walked before. I walked through Riversdale, past the Water Treatment Plant, then I must have doubled back, and crossed the Idylwyld Bridge because I remember walking East on 8th Street toward Broadway.
I was also heavy into Dion those days, because I'd seen an article in one of my dad's Rolling Stone magazines where Lou Reed big upped big D, maybe recorded a duet?, and also because they had "The Wanderer" on the jukebox at Homestead Ice Cream. They also had these weird Christian funny animal comic books there, which I would occasionally read because, hey, comic books, right?
But I know was listening to  Frank's Wild Years when it began to rain and I realized how far I'd been walking and I wasn't really going anywhere, I was just walking and listening to my Walkman and probably feeling sorry for myself.

This was the general headspace I was in the day I decided I wasn't going to class. I was spending a lot of time in my head, and when I couldn't take that anymore, I poured Tom Waits and Lou Reed all over it and walked until I didn't know who I was or how I got there.
I don't remember all the poems I put in the anthology, or even many of them. I know I used "The Russians" by Sting, that seemed like a very deep and thoughtful work when I was 13. "All Along the Watchtower", because I'd just read Watchmen. I maxed out on Richard Brautigan with poems from Loading Mercury With a Pitchfork and June 30th, June 30th. This would have been, let's see, 1991. Kurt Cobain has now been dead almost three times longer than Brautigan had been by that day I read every poem he ever wrote that ended up in the Saskatoon Library Central Branch that hadn't been borrowed by someone else. This is one I had to put in my anthology.
"Taking No Chances"
by Richard Brautigan
I am a part of it. No,
I am the total but there
is also a possibility
that I am only a fraction
     of it.

I am that which begins
but has no beginning.
I am also full of shit
right up to my ears.

                    June 17, 1976 

It blew my mind. It was the most transgressive thing I'd ever read. And I'd read Catcher in the Rye. I'd read John Byrne's Fear Book. I'd listened to Lou Reed's Transformer, Coney Island Baby, and New York albums over a thousand times cumulatively. I wrote a poem about that and put it in the anthology. I wrote a poem about listening to Lou Reed over and over and what that does to your brain when you're 13-years-old and your friends prank call your house. I think it was called "Dog Piss Morning."
I remember that day, that warm spring day spent on the first floor of the library. Copying out poems and then writing my own to fill in the gaps. I understood something about myself that day. 
I got a pretty good mark on the assignment. Good enough to get me into 9th Grade. Where I'd write about Lou Reed again.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Transit: fiction

He kept a box of Smarties in his freezer in case he ever got lonesome for the taste of Halloween on the prairies. He never did, his imagination for nostalgia was entirely self-sufficient, but he wanted to be prepared.
Tonight, at least, the nostalgia would not be self-indulgent. A party in the West End. The birthday of an old friend. An annual trip to the part of the city that the city thinks of when it thinks about itself.
A searching and fearless sartorial inventory. A look at himself as he anticipated others would see him.
Shoes. White. He always bought white sneakers and always regretted it.
Pants. Name-brand. Bought in a mall without trying them on. Fit is okay, but they’re too long over his short legs. The rolled cuffs don’t create a lengthening effect.
Shirt. Brown and white checkered. Quilted western cut. Turmeric stain where the gut puffs out just a touch.
Blazer. Brown corduroy. Faded elbows. Buttoned-up to hide multiple effects of curry at his desk.
Beard. Overgrown. Graying. Moustache trimmed recently enough to keep it out of the mouth.
Eyes. Blue. Red. Blue. Shortsighted.
Hair. Overgrown. Graying. Leaving him very slowly, like a character in a Richard Brautigan novel.
He had no business at a West End show business party, he told himself. But that was the point, wasn’t it? The Actor was a friend. They’d found writing together, chased it down together, and eventually abandoned it--if not together, around the same time.
The last time the Detective had gone trick or treating was with the Actor. They were 13-years-old and dressed up as teenaged hoodlums. Though they ran with as tough and wild a crowd Saskatoon had to offer in 1990, they were both still basically good kids who enjoyed the thrill of being chased more than acts of vandalism they were being chased for that night.
Eggs exploded in the just below freezing night against windshields and front doors. Toilet paper rolls were tossed like the morning papers the same group of boys would deliver to the same houses the next morning. The young Detective didn’t have a paper route. “Unregulated child labour,” his union strong father called it, shutting down the Detective’s adolescent ambitions. “Pure exploitation.”
Having no paper route money with which to buy a carton of eggs at the Main Street 7-11, the Detective was mostly just along for the ride. But Peter Hamilton called into question the Detective’s loyalty. “How do we know Little Miss Clean Hands over here won’t tattle on us?”
“I’m not a tattle-tale.”
“Prove it.”
“Throw something at that house over there.”
“I don’t have any eggs, I don’t have any toilet paper.”
“Then throw a rock.”
The Detective looked over at the Actor for help. The Actor had two paper routes, so he’d had the privilege of paying for Peter’s eggs. But all of the Actor’s throws had missed their mark. Landed in the bushes or splattered with a thud against the not-yet frozen lawns.
The Actor shrugged sympathetically. Peter handed the Detective a rock and gave his shoulder a shove. “Aim for a window.”
The Detective studied his target, a two-story with a glassed-in veranda against a small front yard.  Two large, darkened windows on the top floor. The windows were covered in orange and black paper decorations: witches, vampires, bats. The rock grew heavier in his hand as crossed the street in the middle of the block. He took a pitcher’s stance and held his breath.
The whole veranda rattled at the blow, but the pane struck held up. A light went on in one of the top floor windows. A silhouette of a man filled the frame. The Detective looked over his shoulder and saw he was alone on the street. He ran.
A fist caught him in the gut as he rounded the corner. “You throw like a little bitch.” The Detective sucked in an icy breath that felt worse than no breath at all and retched on Peter’s black British Knights hightops. Sauerkraut, sausage, and perogies. Peter started kicking him. Some of the other boys joined in. One of the kicks rolled the Detective over onto his back and he saw another silhouette, blacked out by the streetlamp above. The Detective knew it was the Actor, standing behind the rest. Even as he curled up to absorb the next kick, the Detective wished he could see the look on the Actor’s face.
Self-indulgent nostalgia, the Detective thought, as he headed out to catch a bus.

The 16, right? No, the 14? The Detective should have written it down. For the first time since the Detective had moved to the west coast, it had been a full year since he’d last seen the Actor. At the Actor’s last birthday party, the Detective had still been a Writer. They’d drank until the sun came up and vowed to do it more often.
Over the summer, as the Detective found himself transformed, he got invitations from the Actor to barbecues on the beach via email and text message. In the fall, there had been an actual voicemail invitation to a housewarming party--the Actor was moving in with his girlfriend Shannon, a producer. But the Detective always had prior commitments.
A producer of what? He thought, leaning out over the curb to watch for a bus. I never ask the right questions. And I never remember the right answers.
The Detective reached into his inside pocket for his notebook. Flipped it open. The Actor’s address. His new address. APT. # 34 129 COMOX. As west as it gets. Not exactly the edge of the earth, but close enough for poetry.
The #16 pulled up and the Detective got on. What was that, Arbutus? That can’t be right.

The Detective leaned his head against the cool glass of the window and fished around his pockets. Left pocket: a box of wooden matches; a CPR mask folded in a pouch on a key ring (no keys attached); large Moleskine notebook (only to be used for GOOD ideas, unlike the general purpose pocket-sized reporter’s style notebook in the inside chest pocket; in other words, it was completely untouched). Right pocket: two pens, one blue ballpoint from a pack of 12 the Detective had bought a few months ago, the other a black ballpoint he’d picked up in the lobby of a downtown hotel where he’d followed a subject six weeks ago; a worn paperback edition of Ackroyd by Jules Feiffer.
The Detective pulled the book out and opened it to a midpoint marked with a bus transfer. The Detective did most of his reading on public transit--most of his thinking, too--and had long ago began the custom of using his most recent bus transfer as a bookmark whenever he started a new book. Then he would know exactly how long he had it had been since he started reading a particular book.
It was one of his few systems, and it was as good as any other.
He could sense the energy of downtown Vancouver outside the bus and was glad to be passing through it, glad to be tucked away in this weird book from the 70s.

He thought about the seven years he’d spent in and around the darkened alleys of the Downtown Eastside. He’d faced down debt-collecting dealers, knife-wielding tweakers and landlords and middle management. None of that scared him anymore. But he started to sweat at the sight of a group of three beefy 21-year-old dudes in Canucks jerseys on their way to a Granville nightclub.

He turned back to Ackroyd. When he looked up again, he was on a bridge. Arbutus, right. How stupid can I be? Arbutus. I should have my license revoked. Arbutus. I should get a paper route in Moose Jaw. Arbutus. Geez.

The Detective pulled the cord and the NEXT STOP light came on. The bus pulled into a barely lit stop at the south end of the Granville Street bridge and he got off. Across the street was another bus stop, just as poorly lit.

Arbutus. I know where Arbutus. What was I thinking? The Detective decided he should get a smartphone. I think I’m so smart but I get on the Arbutus bus to go to the West End. Some detective. I should be digging fence posts outside of Estevan.

There was not at a lot of traffic, but enough to discourage the Detective from jaywalking. He walked south a block to the nearest pedestrian crossing. Arbutus. I’ve been down in my little East Van bubble, thinking I’m so smart, thinking I’m such a man of the world. I get lost going in a straight line. I’m too dumb for this city. I’m too dumb for this planet. 


An hour later, Shannon buzzed the Detective into the vaguely Art Deco building a stone’s throw from the Sylvia Hotel. She met him in the lobby. She led him through a series of stairwells and hallways until they exited the building, walked through a garden path that seemed to circle back to the same building, where through a patio window, the Detective could see the Actor holding court, gesturing broadly to the delight of a small well-dressed and well-groomed crowd.
“He’ll be so glad you could make it,” Shannon said, taking the Detective by the elbow. “He didn’t think you were coming.”
Shannon climbed over a hip-level cement wall onto the sunken patio, then held out her hand to help the Detective over. “Come through here. Don’t worry about your shoes.”
They walked into the living just as the Actor reached the climax of his story.
“And then Aesop gets up, dusts himself off, wipes the puke and blood from his mouth, and looks Peter right in the face and just holds the stare. I’m halfway down the block by now, cuz I know I’m next. At first Peter’s all, ‘what’re you gonna do?’, but Ace, he just stares. I tell you, I’ve seen a lot of beatdowns, I went to Catholic school, but Ace, he could take them like...”
Shannon waved to the Actor, pointed at the Detective and gave a thumbs up.
“Aesop! Come over here, I was just telling them about that time, that Halloween where you broke Peter Hamilton’s nose. Oh, shit, spoiler alert!”

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

today's progress: pretend you're innocent

Railtown, Yaletown, Gastown, Marpole, Shaughnessy, False Creek, Sunrise, Sunset, the Drive, Kits, Kingsway. Kingsway. Kingsway.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

today's progress: staring me down with that ice cream cone

The empty police station on the opposite corner was boarded up. For a while after the VPD had vacated the main building, it had been rechristened with a large San Francisco Police Department sign. A set for a TV show that had apparently ceased production. Now it just looked like another piece of abandoned real estate on the Downtown Eastside.

today's progress: we heard you whistling

“Why is it always my mouth that gets blamed? Why is it never the other guy’s fists?”

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

tonight's progress: the poor love of this poor world

“Why did you come back for me?” Aesop asked.
“Because you seemed foolish, and it was morally wrong of me to help you become a further fool. I had to make things right.”

today's progress: I went, I went, I went away

“Do you remember me?”
“Yeah, sure, I picked you up at the hospital. You wanna go back? You look even worse now.”
“I am worse now, but I’m also better. But that’s beside the point. Do you remember what you told me?”
The cabbie shrugged.

Friday, October 18, 2013

tonight's progress: things had not worked out

He had heard there was still at least one unit working out of the building, but the front doors and all the windows were boarded up.

today's progress: I will make a trap

Real live human security guards were only deployed at construction sites where there were not yet enough walls to hang cameras from.

this morning's progress: you were just a street light

The crowd had dissipated. Obviously, they were expecting something a little more exciting than Man Buys Clothes.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

tonight's progress: read it on their t-shirts

Maybe I’ve been going about this all wrong, trying to be Lew Welch. Wait, Lew Welch or Lew Archer?

today's progress: the heart that you break that's the one that you rely on

“What were you even doing there?” Aesop finally broke the silence after 20 minutes of driving around in Kubert’s cruiser, windows down.
“What were you even doing there?”

tonight's progress: I can't be nice all the time

“I didn’t say I was...”
 Kubert lowered his head to look better into Aesop’s eyes.
“...but I didn’t say I wasn’t.”

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

today's progress: Beach Theme #2

He felt like Dorothy Gale waking up at home, in shitty old black and white Kansas again.

Monday, October 14, 2013

today's progress: I'm telling you it's rough

“You like this stuff?” Aesop gestured at the ceiling tiles. “Isn’t it a little before your time?”
“What’s my time?” the kid looked over his book.
“Now. This.” Aesop knocked on the counter.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

today's progress: hot and cold

The teens scrunched their faces at him, then looked at each other.
“Can anyone just take a kayak out?” Aesop nodded back at a stack of boats beside the a large building. “Or is it residents only?”
“Is there a problem here?” A man came out of the boat house. He wore loose cargo shorts and a white tank top. He had a whistle around his neck.
“I was just wondering about the kayaks,” Aesop said. “I’m a detective.”
He stuck his left hand into the back pocket of his jeans to pull out his badge, like he’d seen on TV. All he found was a bus transfer. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

today's progress: el destino turĂ­stico

On his way into the Seabus Terminal he saw a bus pull in with a sign that read Phibbs Exchange. It sounded like something out of a children’s book, so he got on it.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

today's progress: stay on your toes like high heels

he’d gone out to the Island, to touch the end of the Earth, so that he’d know it was okay to go back

Monday, September 30, 2013

today's progress: A Change in Fortunes

“Is that still a thing, even? Honestly, guys, this isn’t really my thing anymore. I’m a detective now,” Aesop met Kubert’s eyes. “Like you.”
Kubert smiled generously.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

tonight's progress: oh sir, I ain't call no taxi

Though the beating took no longer than 3 or 4 minutes, he had plenty of time to consider the what it meant when your friends all split when someone bears false witness against you.

today's progress: why be so curious when nobody knows

“Jazzer, drop your axe...” he said, but not anywhere near loud enough to compete with the music.

Friday, September 27, 2013

today's progress: Size Large

Kubert opened the door. Aesop peered inside. 1000 pounds of white meat, uniformed in police gym sweat pants and tank tops, celtic knot tattoos and well-groomed goatees, laying down some of the most solid freestyle funk-jazz this side of Spaceways Inc.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

today's progress: underground at the edge of time

“This reminds me of Broad Street North, in Regina,” Aesop said. “Except for the Sktrain.”
“I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been east of Edmonton.”

Sunday, September 22, 2013

today's progress: got to grow down to grow up

His friends were gone, their bikes still laid out on the summer grass like it was just an ordinary night. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

today's progress: the occasional curse

Bus routes used to have names that meant something. Now it was all new age mumbo-jumbo. What was going on at City Hall?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

today's progress: the longest bridge over the shortest span of water

Aesop thought about what happened to Hansel and Gretel after they ran out of breadcrumbs, but didn’t say anything.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

today's progress: this rig that runs, runs on memory

Aesop had only been in a police car once before. He’d been 15 years-old and he and his gang had been out on their bikes, no one had a car yet, and for whatever reason—a girl—had ended up in a rich part of town.

Friday, September 13, 2013

today's progress: who will answer a brother's call?

“Hey, do you remember when people liked those electronic remixes of classic jazz songs? Y’know, like Moby doing Ella Fitzgerald or Felix Da Housecat doing Nina Simone or some shit?”
Aesop nodded. “The Verve Remixed Series.”
“Right. I knew you’d remember. You were into that?”

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

today's progress: pretend you're innocent

Kubert piled the contents of Aesop’s drawer on top of the desk: bottle caps from Mexican sodas; a thick stack of bus transfers held together with a rubber band; two worn John D. MacDonald paperbacks (A Tan and Sandy Silence and The Green Ripper), each with a bus transfer sticking out of the top, no more than 25 pages in on either one; a 75g bag of Creamy Dill chips; a flip phone in two pieces; a cartoonish map of downtown Vancouver sponsored by a less-famous hot dog cart; a creased print-out of Charles Willeford’s letter to his nephew on the importance of owning books by Kafka in college; a type-written letter from the pseudonymous mystery novelist K.C. Constantine, still in its original envelope, postmarked two years earlier; an opened bag of Hawkins Cheezies; a plane ticket from YQR to YVR, dated August, 2006; a Moleskine notebook filled with grocery lists and amateurish sketches of Batman, mostly in profile; a veritable wreath of USB cords; the March, 2009 issue of The Walrus; Geist 76, folded open to a George Bowering piece called “Still a Writer”; a pack of eight AA batteries with one removed; a receipt from Nuba; a cheap spiral-bound notebook filled with grocery lists and amateurish sketches of Green Lantern, mostly in flight; a pen and pencil set bearing the logo of a Saskatchewan daily newspaper; take-out menus from a pizza place, a Vietnamese place, and a sushi place; and finally, a dot-matrix printout bearing the seal of the Instituto de Aprendizaje Hijos del Peublo declaring, in Spanish, the completion by Aesop Mosley of Estudios del Investigador Privado, dated January 23rd of this year.
“Whadda ya know?” Kubert said, folded the diploma several times and then tucked it away in that enigmatic inside pocket of his 80s cop show sports coat.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

today's progress: expanding and expanding

“I mean, you got a license from the province, right? You’re legit enough.”
“A license?”
“Yeah, you know, the Security Services Registrar? I mean, you wouldn’t be operating a Security Business without a license, that wouldn’t be very bright.”
“Don’t you need clients to operate a business?” Roz, looking up from her computer, where she was live-Tweeting the interview.
Kubert mimed scratching off a point for Roz. “Fair point. You the lawyer?”
“Dance instructor.”
“Makes sense.”

Monday, September 09, 2013

today's progress: bring rusty pliers

He looked like Hunter, from the old TV show Hunter. Gotta be a cop.
“Constable Kubert,” he said, reaching across Aesop’s comic books and crossword puzzles to offer a business card, which Aesop took quickly.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

today's progress: run and get your shovel, run and get your pick

Aesop called 9-1-1 from the battered payphone across the street and started walking. What would Lew Archer do? Archer would never find himself in such a position. Archer was barely there. What did Macdonald say about Archer? “If he turned sideways he’d disappear.” Aesop flattened himself against the brick wall. Sucked in his gut. Turned sideways. Still there.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

today's progress: don't mess with my toot toot

You don’t want bad shit to happen to people you care about? Become a plumber. Learn to cook. Practice your saxophone in a thunderstorm. Whatever you do, don’t cast off your disappointment of a life-so-far and assume the identity of a vaguely existential private detective.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

today's progress: each day is a struggle

“Y’know,” Aesop said to the bored barista. “Those Herzogs on the wall were all taken about 25 blocks to the west of here. You guys should really look into the heritage of the Sunrise neighbourhood. It’s pretty interesting in its own right.”
“You want room for cream?”
“Uh, sure. Thanks.”

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

today's progress: keep on with the force don't stop til you get enough

“‘Shit tornado’? C’mon, man, I though you used to be a writer.”
“Get off my lawn, Al.”
“That’s better.”

Monday, September 02, 2013

today's progress: can't predict the weather

"There are no anarchists on Facebook. If someone actually did that and then posted it, they’re a goof."

Sunday, September 01, 2013

today's progress: a lot of crank air

“You still like it Halle Berry?” Aesop nodded at the paper cup beside his, steaming in the cool overnight air.
“You remembered. I’m touched. Your face, what the hell?”
“How many times I buy you coffee when we worked together?” Aesop shifted back, under and out of the glare of the blue neon in the window behind him.
“Ah, I always figured you just liked getting out of the building, going for a walk.”
“Maybe so. Maybe I figured I owed you.”
“You don’t owe me, Ace. We’re even. We’ve always been even.”
“We’ll see,” Aesop blowing into his cup before taking a sip. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

today's progress: MFers never learn

Aesop wasn’t so sure as he watched a city crew collected loot from public trash cans. AC/DC’s “Rock & Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” blasted from the white and orange truck’s cab. The streets were otherwise empty and Aesop made good time on his bike through Grandview and Mount Pleasant, dark and tree-lined. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

tonight's progress: especially you

“They think you... come on, you’re shitting me. You? Do they know you?”
“They know that I know you. That’s probably enough for them to have an open file on me.”
“You think? You think I’m that...highly regarded?”

today's progress: I've been havin' those dreams again

Once he was gone, the job lost most of its fun for Aesop, leaving only the crushing weight of unending human misery and shitty wages.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Today's progress: the walk you take from A to B to C

They drifted apart after Aesop went into private practice. Al called him a capitalist and spit on his shoes. Aesop, for his part, just shrugged. “Call me sometime,” he said as Al stormed out. “We’ll get a coffee.”

Monday, August 26, 2013

Today's Progess: ready for alarm, ready to be tough

Aesop got home in time to catch the 1 a.m. rebroadcast of the late local news. Hockey highlights, tomorrow’s weather, ribbon cutting ceremony at a new yoga wear store, commercial break, banter amongst the anchors about what happened at some awards show.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Today's Progress: no blind spots in a leopard's eyes

Aesop opened the passenger-side backdoor of the cab and sat down, startling the cabbie who had the Georgia Straight spread open across the steering wheel and was nose-deep in the “Savage Love” column.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

everyone whispers, 'cause I talk too loud

If there was one thing Aesop liked about parties it was that they're easy to leave. You just wait for the host to get into conversation with someone else and you slip on out the door. It was easier to do in Vancouver than it had been in Regina. In the winter, anyway, when you had to put on boots and gloves and a parka, it was a little harder to slip away into the night when you'd had your fill of human interaction. It was easier to just not show up at all.
Aesop saw his chance when Luke's wife came out to the patio to present some friends of hers from out of town who'd just arrived.
"Sorry," Aesop interrupted the introductions, "it's been a while. The bathroom is..."
"Down the hall, second door on the right."
Aesop could have drawn a diagram of the apartment and knew exactly where he was going. Down the hall, first door on the left. From one hallway to another. An elevator. A glass door. Exhale. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

the bottom fell out

Emergency crews were already at work by the time Aesop got out on the street. They got one look at his blood-crusted and swollen face and tattered clothes and they wrapped a blanket around him and tossed him in the back of an ambulance.
At least I think I know where we're going this time, he thought as he realized it was the second day in a row he'd been put in the back of cube van under wrong assumptions about his identity. Still, it was probably not the worst idea to get his face looked at. It would be a real comedy of errors if not for all the violence. He wondered if it would end, as all Shakespearean comedies do, with a wedding.
At St. Paul's Hospital his wounds were cleaned and some of them sutured and he was told to sit in the salmon-coloured waiting room to be interviewed by police.
Aesop discovered with some pleasure that the pocketbook edition of Maigret & the Bum he kept in his blazer had miraculously survived the kidnapping, the beatings, the explosions and the aftermath. It was as if the sports coat had given its life to protect it. How would he ever replace it? He looked up in despair just in time to see a smokey-eyed nurse smother an equal made-up patient with a pillow on some daytime soap on the waiting room TV.
"Bad timing," he said out loud.
"You say something about a timer?" asked a uniformed cop who stepped between Aesop and the ceiling-mounted TV, eclipsing Aesop's entire field of vision.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

INTERLUDE: Goodbye, Elmore (part one)

"You can't park here!"
Elmore King didn't look back. He'd pulled up in front of the fountain because he thought it would look cool. He hadn't even considered whether or not it was a legal parking spot. Did decorative water fountains count as fire hydrants? Maybe he'd get a ticket, maybe he'd get towed. It wasn't his car anyway, and even if it was, he was answering a higher calling at the moment than that of automobile ownership.
Elmore King was going to murder his brother.
He had some things he'd always wanted to before he took that final, irrevocable act. The first of which had been to drive his neighbour's 1974 Plymouth Roadrunner. A real classic. Don't make cars like that anymore. Damn shame.
Of course, if they did, it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun taking this one for a ride. Elmore had coveted his neighbour's muscle car for years. It sat under a tarp most of the year, a damn shame to let a car like that, a car that wants to be driven, a car made for the road, sit still like that. May-long, Elmore'd watch Brad Kostyk give it a proper wash and wax in the driveway, then take it for a cruise--who knows where. Kostyk never had it out past 9. Never drove it after dark.
"Elmore, what can I do for you?" Kostyk seemed genuinely surprised when he answered the door. Less so when Elmore smashed his fist against his stomach and dragged him to the kitchen, where the Roadrunner's keys hung on a pegboard.
The rumble of the V8 made Elmore feel like he was riding a lion. Like some gladiator from Bible days, riding a lion into the arena to punish the wicked.
He could still hear the beautiful roar of his magnificent beast from Detroit as he pushed through the doors into the front lobby of City Hall.

Monday, August 19, 2013

if we all go

That's when the windows blew in.
Everything went loud orange, then hissing black, then silent gray. Aesop was under his desk. Earthquake? Continental drift? Rapture?
The silence turned to a buzz and the gray dissipated, letting through staggered rays of sunlight like lasers through a fog machine at a Duran Duran concert. Aesop stuck his head up and saw Gil and Roz were already at the window where the the dust seemed the thinnest. He joined them.
"What the hell?" he tried to say, as his eyes followed the line from Gil's pointing finger to the burning mess of the ground floor of the medium-rise office building across the street.
He could see Roz's lips moving, repeating something,"...some fucks they blew up, some fucks they blew up...". Aesop closed his eyes and mentally reconstructed the view he'd seen out the window dozens of times before, as recently as five minutes ago. A courier outlet, a dry cleaner, the lobby of the office building, a fast food franchise..burritos? Thai?...and a chain coffee shop.
Aesop opened his eyes and looked at Roz again with concentration and finally heard: "...they blew up Starbucks! They b..."