Over the next couple of days, in honor of being about to leave Vancouver, I’m going to post a series of stories I’ve written (either in the last couple of months or, with the final few, the last couple of days) which have been inspired in some way shape or form by the city I’ve grown up in. Taken together they comprise where I am as a writer, and also what Vancouver has really come to mean for me. This first one, “Movement Series,” shows me trying to capture what it feels like to ‘go’ in this city, either forwards or upwards. The series is actually a lot longer (and weirder) than the excerpt I have here, but I think these four sections have the most thematic unity. Enjoy!
Across the Ocean, we look out at the explosion of bridges and roads and towers—electric circuses of cities—and shudder. China rising. But then, what’s that line about glass houses and stones? Dangerous game for Vancouverites to play.
Dance, you dance, let it dance. Rush-hour roaming. She spins her blades past the traffic, snaking in between the jeeps the lambor’s the monstrous 99’s. Pointing at you, she tips her blades back into the traffic—pointing to the sky, singing an invisible song. Dance, you, dance. Lights open and close the lanes to her—like silent cops they direct all—you leave, but she, she refuses. Turn her back and she’ll direct the stream of suitcases and backpacks across.
(From every corner of the square, people make polite Vancouver mumbles and polite quiet pointing.)
C’mon, she nods, come on. But maybe she’s not beckoning at all. Maybe we’re not even there… in her bubble of lipstick and bubblegum, it’s disco all the time. She nods again, as if to direct the last of the sunlight her way on this late, baby-spring day.
(Phones unsheathed like swords, already ready for capturing the next digital sensation).
At peak times like this, so many people flood the square that they could be the interlocking yarn of a very grim scarf. But she: that obscene pink, used only after the Knitters have run out of all the regular colors. Spandex with paint spatterings; neon scrunchies holding back the ginger hair which frizzes from its ends like broken spark plugs; taut face shrunken n’ shriveled in its concentration—ho’ baby. Slinking backwards towards the station, she could be dolphin-skidding off the bluest of waters. It’s a precision so careful that she cast ripples on the soggy cigarette street corner.
–And God she’s tragic.
–Ugh. Can you imagine?
–How long you think they’ll take her away this time?
–It’s been a couple months. Since last time.
–And it’ll be a couple more this time round.
–But she keeps coming back. Same goddamn place.
–Where else do you think she’ll go? There ‘aint enough cells in the world for all the loonies of Vancouver.
— Well. There’s a special cell in Heaven for an Eighties girl like her.
— Oh ‘Couv, oh ‘Couv.
And we turn from the spot just as the sirens sing. Four cop vans for one girl. Really, it’s like they’re giving the music for that silent song she’d been singing the whole time. Now, it’s our music too. But then, no one ever stays for the end of the disco.
Remember when it got dark and you were ten? The water cresting, a whisper that stole the noise from the world—and you with your camper-cooker sticks a’ready while Mom struck the matches and Uncle fanned the embers? You can almost feel the heat. Diverting eyes, you strike the stick towards the flames, bring out the pin-pricks of the embers. You twist the stick, revolve it again and again, just watching the motion. Then Brother creeps up and scatters the embers. Your lakes explode into the sky, taking to the air, becoming the frenzied fireflies of the night. Lighting all the corners of the black. You don’t care about the waves you don’t care about the stars; just about these embers, just because they burn so bright, so unexpectedly, and for so short a time. Just where do they go as they spin—dizzily—into the reaches, just what do they see in that hiccup, that breath, that moment before they finally fade?
On the corner of Commercial and Broadway, similar motions make for the skytrains. The crackle and sizzle of a human rush hour, extravaganzas of motivations crisscrossing like different levels of light. There, a bassist leaning against the store front, badumbdumbdumbdumb-ing away. There, the biker looping his way amongst the crossers, earing glinting in the sun. There, a woman wears a dress like an abstract painting, all slanted colors (twisting a smile like she was silently waiting for you—of all people—to see).
Running along the pace and the frenzy makes sense—an agreed-upon speed limit, agreed number of varying motivations to check-off the boxes on (to have; to work; to vape; to love; to dance; to run; to march; to sing—have a home and you have a purpose sum’kinda’ beat to hold this 7-7/8 rhythmn). Standin’ still, this street corner jazz got a lot more complicated—the edges of the patterns now jump at you, melodies mix with melodies in frightening dissonance, cymbals crash with the screeching honks and police whistles, speeding in the shift, the dizzy (eyes closed but there’s still that movement, that movement—life and life and all tha’ rest).
Beside you a man north of seventy stands in place, staring off with the same blank eyes; hand trembles over shortening shopping bag. Once you’re out you’re out for a while: the two of us watch the fray, center of the whirl, of sounds that we’re beginning to realize has silence at its core.
But it only takes some gulps of their same air for you to learn that you need to revere exactly the things you can’t understand—deep breath, now, and you’re back into the rushing swing (ooh baby yes! it’s double-beat again, beating down to the screeching skytrain tracks, a buh-buh-buh–buh all da way up da stairs, out ‘cross the glass express, jogging with the commuters). All aboard Her Great Majesty! Opening her doors, she rings out a clear three notes, balance and peace to all the fragmented contours of your life. You enter hoping the streets start to make sense.
And thank God: inside there are seats there are poles, things make sense because people have-their place, rising and falling heads of hair, moving only to the shake of the tracks. Some will leave, but they’ll leave at their allotted places upon allotted zones, day-the-in with the day-the-out. And in here, under tin roofs, the sunlight can only ever pierce so far—if you stand in the center you’ll never meet anything but the most perfect semi-darkness.
But. In metallic holds people generate their own shadows. Teenage corn-braided girls stare into electronic portals that don’t stare back. Men with thinning wispy hair do crosswords on the backs of crinkled newspapers. Mothers without children scan the chapters of baby books without words. Most of them, though (of all the heads and all heads of hair), stare out at nothing at all, glassy eyes which pretend to look out upon the world outside the skytrain but, like goldfish in clear bowls, cannot understand the uncertain warmth of a less-than-synthetic sun.
So you get off; a metered, measured paradise is no paradise at all. Leaning sideways on the steps of a half-abandoned Ukrainian Church, the sky is broken by white waving clouds like the belly of a dying fish. Just beyond that is a quiet ghost of a moon. And even here, this far from your daily-boundaries, there are buses beckoning you, telling you it’s back to UBC. And still it’s another bubble of comprehension impossible to dissect—another metallic heartbeat and the chaotic cackle of improvisations.
When French men dreamed they could capture the world’s pulse through systematic streets and programmed people, did they ever know they would be so wrong at the very moment they were being proven so fastidiously correct?
Along the rails, these Burnaby highrises seem unwavering, as certain and timeless as the mountainous spines of the Earth. Marine strike, blocks that melt into the sky—blocks that are the sky.
Down below, you realize they’re personalities. They’re personable and vain and subject to all the habits and failings of the rest of us. Down here, in and among the maze of the stucoed two-stories from the eighties, these towers take on the menacing, ever-looming stance of the playground bullies. The New-Dev Gang. Huddled round the raised rails are the Aquamarine Triplets, whispering to themselves, plotting their next takeover. Just what little voice will they stamp out next? (never even wanted their lunch money). Listen up and join—or die. Become like the rest and you’ll survive.
Across the way, though, is the ever-more-terrifying Kakumanu the Great. Stretching-more-striking into the space beyond us, he refuses to bend or blend. Red cubes build upon his visible sides like the great plume of a fiery bird of mating. As vain as he’s visible, you can see the Great Kakumanu watching himself in the mirror Aquamarine Triplet No.3 makes from his glass side. Along Kakumanu’s edges are his trails of fangirls: the flashy Bauhaus-box apartments who make a Denmarkian strike upon this grim nostalgic landscape. At its gate, a neon sign introducing the vertical new millennium; at its door a fountain for those rich enough to break past the Riddle of the Neon Gate.
It may seem innocuous, this playground clique of gentrification. But these families of the stuccoed past don’t have to live very long to remember how short ago all of this just wasn’t here. These families of the stuccoed present don’t have to be incredibly smart to already be packing their bags. Look at the leer of Kakumanu: he cocks his head your ways always: he takes another tentative step: next time’s not so tentative. And the reflection here in ten years: so many towers you don’t know what it’s supposed to be reflecting off of in the first place.
(Footnote: And so the sky, like a perfect Platonic form, will be so trapped from human comprehension you’ll have to speak in symbols and metaphors just to get other humans to understand that you’re talking about that-which-lies-beyond-us. So it was decreed from Abraham ta Moses ta Jesus ta Regan. So it shall be fulfilled upon Ezekiel’s return.)
For the “full reading experience”, we now ask all passengers to please refer to their nearest Freshman student’s I-Pod to look up College’s “Real Hero” from the Drive Soundtrack.
Run run run, the rail ribbon: sit at the back to watch the world unfurl n’ open up before you (less like the opening of the curtain—Vancouver’s curtain opened up to you years ago, that other night on the Expo line— and more like the moments in the play when you can see between the set and the wall to the metal workings of the inner stage, the actors rubbing off the make-up, the techie’s readying the next prop; the Jig’s up, the judge tells you, the dream’s over). “A Real Hero” in your earbuds, and the last few inches the sun closes that 80’s throwback movie you were wanting to live in for maybe a couple more moments. But. Wave goodbye to the glass brothers, wave goodbye to the picketed houses. Wave goodbye to your winding wandering nowhere’s, wave goodbye to those nights you’d stare out on these neon starfields and wish so desperately you were somewhere else. Lean to your left and the sun’s exploding into the city, melting into the mountains and glass-topped edges of human height. You hold tight to the rails and wonder where it all went. Staring at this electric canyon, the choice arrives with the next station: let it sink in, or take your cue to leave. Because it’s already Main and your time’s not getting younger. Anyone of these here stops—any one you can get off. Do that and you stay there, though. Spend a life @ Joyce Ave, @ Nan-fucking-nimo? By now it’s hard to distinguish the different kinds of hunger: your bones shake, your skin melts into the felt seats. What’s wanting new places, what’s wanting something that never was ever really there in the first place? Look’e-here, the Heather Hospital already breaking out across the horizon…finally something like clarity. But by then the train’s already rolled on and you’re on your way: the city makes so much sense framed in the postcard shadows the backend of the lights cast. Ding, dong, ding! Skytrain’s saying it’s the last stop: it chirps like the three fates dressed in gaudy, Expo-86 drag. They’re acting like this would always be easy. Well, fuck them.
And fuck this city. It’s time to move.