Tales of the City: January/February 2010

The Coda

Some years back, I took it into my head to join a choir. At the time Vancouver offered only a few secular options for a middling baritone, so I contacted the queen of voice, Chor Leoni’s Diane Loomer. My memories of the audition are mercifully dim, but I do recall the gracious way she paused at the keyboard of her piano, an imposing piece in a West Side home filled with lovely objects. I felt her looking at me, but I kept my eyes on my tennis shoes. “Not ready,” she said gently. “Not ready.”—John Burns

Kindness of Strangers

Midnight. SkyTrain. The woman to my right cries quietly on a man’s shoulder. When the train stops, he quickly exits. From the back of the car an older man, rugged and greasy, is also making for the door. Instead he stops, hobbles toward the woman, takes two red roses from his dusty coat, and hands them to her. Eyes swollen, she asks, “Why?” He smiles and tells her, “I bought them for someone else, but they were meant for you.”—Anja Konjicanin

Mortgage Helper

On paper it was promising: a bungalow in Grandview with three bedrooms up and a basement suite. The main floor needed some TLC, and the basement had a hotplate-and-laundry-sink kitchen, unfinished concrete floors, and a mould problem. We skirted tenants and layabouts to survey the various rooms. One door was closed; our agent opened it to reveal a mattress on the floor, an older man digging in his pocket, and a thin brunette struggling to get her scraggly tank top back on. The man handed her some bills, and she slipped past us. It was not the kind of mortgage helper we were looking for.—Valerie McTavish

Welcome Wagon

On the SkyTrain, I overheard a man asking a woman for directions. Turned out it was his second day in Canada. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “Where are you from?” Saudi Arabia, he said. “Oh!” she exclaimed, “do you like our mountains?” A seated man with a key on a lanyard around his neck nudged the newcomer with his newspaper. “Here,” he said. “Take it. Everyone should do this: it saves the environment. Besides, you save the $1.50. You could buy something with that. A bowl of soup.” They both exited at Main Street, the Saudi still trying to return the copy of the Province. —Marcie Good

By Its Cover

At least once a day, I take my 100-pound German shepherd to the Ambleside dog park. One afternoon I was talking with a woman who’d brought along her daughter, who wore jean shorts, a tank top, and the pouty look of a teenager forced to do something with a parent. “Hey,” I said brightly, “is that Twilight you’re reading? My daughter loves those books.” Annoyed that I’d interrupted—and showing me the cover of the book—she replied, in a bored deadpan: “Actually, it’s A Comparative Study of Fascism.”—John Barrie


 Some friends and I were heading home when a haggard-looking man in his mid 20s, with dirty dreads and a torn, crumpled shirt, ran up and claimed he was a human dictionary. For $1 he could define and spell any word in the English language. I offered “mellifluous.” Clearly stumped, he rapped instead. UBC still hasn’t raised its requirements or lowered its tuition, and I’ve stopped talking to strangers on campus.—Jeffrey Bichard

Isle of Babel

One day in the early 1980s at Granville Island Public Market, a produce merchant from Argentina was talking to one of his employees, a Peruvian Chinese. A regular customer said to the merchant, “I’m so glad you’re learning Chinese.” They were speaking Spanish, of course.—Judie Glick

Call of Nature

Wandering through the Endowment Lands one summer’s day, my wife and I stumbled on a young journalist and a surly, older cameraman. “Have you seen anything about attacking owls?” the young guy asked. My wife had, by chance: a poster at Camosun and 41st. My wife, who has Metis roots, waxed on about the meaning of meeting owls in the woods. “We shouldn’t see them as enemies,” she said, “just messengers.” The journalist, in dress pants and blue shirt, took notes. The cameraman—balding, with a 1970s ponytail—rolled his eyes. When it came time to part, my wife needed a washroom. “Did you see one on your way in?” she asked. The cameraman, who hadn’t said a word, looked up at her disdainfully: “Use the woods.”—Chad Hershler

Special Needs

I boarded an overloaded bus on South Granville after work one day. At the next stop, I shimmied down the aisle to make room for two women with oversize strollers who were pushing their way into the handicapped section at the front.  “Sorry, front of the bus is full,” the driver called out the door to a man in a wheelchair. “You’ll have to wait for the next one.” As the bus drove off, I noticed there was no baby in one of the strollers—in it sat one Pug and three shopping bags. —Patience Lister

The Tip

My father, Joe, owned and operated the Normandy Restaurant on South Granville for over 20 years. It was a place where everyone knew one another. Unfortunately, Joe’s restaurant days were cut short one November day in 2005 when a kitchen fire destroyed the place. Shortly after the firemen left, a homeless fellow came in. Joe thought he was going to ask for a handout. Instead, the fellow presented Joe with $20 to help rebuild the restaurant.—Lillian Siu


A regular outside the Safeway at Commercial and Broadway always has a hat out and always says the same thing: “Money for food, not for alcohol.” One day I bought him a bunch of bananas. He wrinkled up his nose and said he was allergic to bananas. The next time I saw him I bought him a loaf of bread. “Bread?” he said, clearly annoyed. “Why does everybody give me bread?”— Jenny Reed