Tales of the City: September 2009

Beggars Can Be Choosers

After a visit to that vegetarian mecca The Naam, in Kits, I drove home laden with boxes of leftovers due to overzealous ordering on an empty stomach. Stopped at a light downtown, I noticed a guy about my age sitting on the corner, holding a sign that read, simply, “Hungry.” I opened my window and offered him my leftovers. He asked what they were. I told him. To which he replied, “That’s awesome, man. I’m a vegetarian.” —Sara Kinninmont

One Fine Day

On a sunny spring day, after attending a funeral, I was walking back to work, ambling west down the alley between Hastings and Pender; slung over my shoulder was a newish Vancouver Public Library courier bag, from which glared a face identified as that of Samuel Beckett. A woman broke away from her cluster of crack users and said, “Hey! Hey, Sam! You owe me. Remember? You owe me for that night in the park. You know you owe me. You know you are the Vancouver Public Library, Sam. You are the Vancouver Public Library.” And so on, for several blocks. It left me feeling somewhat dazed, and with the certainty that if I didn’t settle up my overdues right then and there, something truly grim was going to happen. So I did. And it didn’t. —Bill Richardson

Scene Wrecker

In a Main Street café—one of those faux-bohemian haunts where 20-somethings fiddle their iPods while talking about their new T-shirt company—the scene was interrupted by a shabbily dressed woman wandering through the door and asking for change. “Out!” hollered the woman behind the counter. “I’m having a hard time right now,” said the panhandler. “Can I have some coffee?” She wobbled as she spoke, nearly falling asleep on her feet. “We’ve all got problems,” the barista replied. “It’s a recession.” —Michael Harris

Worthy Cause 

I’m walking the path along Jericho Beach, heading toward the sailing centre. Two middle-aged women overtake me in a power walk, and as they pass I catch a bit of their conversation. “Are you going to the Cancer Ball?”  “Oh, I’d love to go to the Cancer Ball.”  “I hear it’s $200 a plate.”  “Oh, my goodness.”  “Well. It is cancer.” —Melissa Edwards


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Light My Fire

A few years back, I spent a day touring the city with TV chef Anthony Bourdain. He is as acerbic in person as he is on the tube, and the hours passed in a happy blur of cab rides and comped shooters. In the early evening, we found ourselves drinking champagne at the Opus Hotel. Jim Byrnes was playing the blues as leggy PR types and U.K. travel scribes mingled. Suddenly, the smell of smoke. All eyes turn to Bourdain. “Hey,” he said, “for once it’s not me!” A CBC cameraman who’d been hounding Bourdain had leaned into a candle and set his jacket ablaze. An immaculate blond raised an eyebrow. “Is that young man on fire?” Her companion sipped her champers and shook her head: “Some people.” —John Burns

The Naked Mile

Ambleside Beach, mid ’90s. Returning from an abysmal date on a moonless Friday night, I decided to engage in a rugged ritual that had previously succeeded in rinsing away all woes: skinny-dipping in the ocean. I parked, walked out onto the beach, and stripped down by a log. Sounds of partying teens could be heard in the distance. I gasped as I sunk into the water, gazed up at the stars, and began to feel something akin to mystical resurrection. A few minutes later, shivering yet restored, I limped across the sharp rocks to where I’d left my clothes. Shoes, yes, with socks, car keys, and wallet tucked in them. Jeans with Calvin’s, no. Shirt, gone. Teenage titters reached me in the darkness as I realized what had happened. Powerless, I could only curse, crouch, clutch at my dignity, and do a kind of battlefield sprint for my car as jeers and howls followed my naked backside. I turned on the heater, revved out of there, and tried to look nonchalant as I passed the police station. —J.T. Siemens

Small Change

My friend, a fairly hefty businessman, and I were passing a panhandler slouched against a corner downtown. Asked for spare change, my friend handed some over. The panhandler examined it contemptuously, then started to flick away the pennies, nickels, and dimes:  “It’s an insult to give me these little coins.” Outraged, my friend put the panhandler in a shoulder vice grip, demanding:  “Get down and pick those up!”  A growing circle of slightly horrified onlookers watched as the panhandler, whimpering, duly gathered up all the coins. Said my friend: “Now put every fucking cent I gave you back in my hand.” The panhandler complied once more. My friend put the change back in his pocket and we walked away. —Laura Fauman

Deer In Headlights

Taking my dog out for her last walk of the evening, I noticed a large animal attempting to cross at East 21st—a buck deer, I realized. It bounded across Fraser Street, straight into a BMW: smack! After it hit that car it bounded off to the east. The driver got out and we talked. Was it really a deer? Where had it come from? Where was it going? For an hour or so, my daughter and I looked for it, and I noticed others looking, too, from their bikes and cars, all of us hoping to help this animal, maybe injured, stuck in the middle of the city. I hope, dear deer, that you made it, wherever you were going. —Lisa Kirk

Look Up, Way Up

At noon on Halloween, 1918, the largest crowd the city had ever seen gathered at the corner of Beatty and Pender outside the World Building (now known as the Sun Tower). People were there to watch Harry “The Human Fly” Gardiner scale the 17-storey building, Vancouver’s tallest at the time. Gardiner emerged from the front door wearing a white canvas suit and made his way slowly upward, becoming a white speck against the building. After an hour and a half, the Fly scrambled over the slippery copper dome to the summit. Then, goes the report, lit  by brilliant sunlight, he waved to the people below, who could barely see him, and vanished into the building. —Daniel Francis

Save The Last Dance

I was attending a Juno afterparty in a converted warehouse at Main and Hastings. Under a handmade lantern, there was Mayor Gregor Robertson, surrounded by a bevy of sarong-clad admirers. I went up and asked him to dance. “Must be hard to get out like this and remain anonymous,” I shouted through the music. “Yes,” he shouted back, “it’s hard to get used to. But this place is worth it; I love it here.” We shouted a few more things that neither of us heard, then His Worship boarded his bicycle and pedalled off into the night. —Claire Grady-Smith

Blowing In The Wind

During the windstorm of 2006, I was enduring a period of trouble with my fiancée. Sometime during the early hours of the storm’s first morning, I heard a great clattering up on our roof. Chairs were falling over. A few evenings earlier, I’d made my fiancée dinner up there in an attempt at old-fashioned romance. I’d set the patio table with two white lilies in a vase. When I heard the crash, I got up from bed and climbed the stairs to the deck. The chairs had all been pinned to the glass partition that surrounded the roof. The barbecue lay on its side. Bottles rolled about. But the table held fast. And at its centre stood a little miracle: the vase, and the lilies, had survived intact. My fiancée and I were not so lucky. —Nathan Sellyn


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