“It’s hard to imagine that a city now known for its bloated real estate, yuppie cokeheads and inability to buy a beer, gave birth to bands like D.O.A. and the Subhumans and made Dave ”Tiger” Williams a hockey star. If the Vancouver of 1980 met the Vancouver of 2008, it would give it a curbie.”
Sean Condon, “Time Travel: Vancouver 1980,” Only (April 15, 2008)
Bowen Island is not exactly an exotic locale, lacking virtually all the usual aesthetic opportunities. However, it’s bucolic, quiet, and close: There’s exactly one other human being on the long hike up Mt. Gardiner, which yields spectacular views of the metropolis just a skip over the water.
The interregnum between sanctioned feasts completed, and the vehicle patiently waiting in the ferry line-up, I pass the time with a walk in the cold and sunshine.
In the confines of Snug Cove I cross paths with a certain new varietal of Lower Mainland colonist, one who enjoys his day-trips in very large and noisy groups. A member of this contingent walks toward me, a young fellow carrying a sports bag. A Louis Vuitton sports bag.
And without any further prompting, in the picture-postcard confines of sunny and dull exurbia, a long dormant and deep-seated body memory suddenly awakes.
Alan was on the fringe of our little group of ethnically diverse miscreant explorers and minor league vandals -the token “Canadian.” The main thing I remember about him was the oft-repeated rumour that he suffered an undescended testicle.
His older brother, Buddy, left a much stronger impression. I recall a chiseled face a little like Matt Dillon’s in The Outsiders, but with a cheap haircut, a regularly shifting pattern of scrapes and bruises, and significantly less sentience about the eyes. Although I took great pains to avoid him, it proved challenging: Buddy was a journeyman criminal that worked our Renfrew-Collingwood neighbourhood like a sub rosa tax farmer, a private and unsanctioned agent of 1970s income redistribution.
Anonymous theft seemed to be his preferred MO. Items left unsecured out-of-doors had a way of quickly disappearing. I lost a beloved bicycle to him -a red three-speed, a generous gift from my parents following a prolonged recovery from pneumonia at St. Paul’s; it vanished after a half-dozen rides and a brief lapse in judgment regarding its security. I catch a last glimpse a couple of days later, as Buddy pushes it up Lillooet Street, its modest profile too low for him to ride to its new owner.
There was also a more personal approach: the shakedown.
Buddy -and his ilk, a loose and aspiring Anglo-Saxon mafia farm team- employed a particular maneuver. Walking down the street, en route to the comic book shop, and out of nowhere Buddy appears on my right and engages me in inane banter. Before I gather my wits, his left hand comes up and strikes me, flat palm down, against my upper chest –not too hard but quick, producing a disconcertingly loud smack! The palm turns into a tight grip on my down jacket and the conversation veers towards monetary matters, his right hand hanging loose and ready to join the discussion. I say “jacket” because I recall these shakedowns taking place against grey skies, on cold, damp and all-too-empty streets. I suppose warmer seasons were reserved for ripping-off bikes or that other East Vancouver piecemeal gig of the time, the B & E.
I never participated in the demand side of the this low-level income redistribution scheme. However, I became an adept of the left-handed palm-down-smack-and-grab, a regular feature of angry confrontations with friend and foe alike, roughly comparable to the settlement procedures popular on Hockey Night in Canada.
As Louis Vuitton quickly comes abreast of me and passes, my muscles twitch and I’m readying to pivot 180˚, sidle up on his right, make an inane comment about the weather, and in the interval of confusion … smack! -let him know just how much I admire his choice of luggage.
Of course, the rational side of my consciousness quickly kicks in, like a circuit breaker. My emotional solidarity with Buddy is clearly misguided: I certainly don’t need a designer sports bag or its black market cash equivalent; Buddy’s moved on, to Matsqui, real estate, or whatever; our East Van is long gone, its rough and ready street rules and equalizations no longer apply, certainly not on the cusp of 2016 on Bowen Island, not even as an echo to spook some hapless schmuck.
Besides: too many witnesses.