In retrospect I must say that I really couldn’t have picked a better fashion choice than Farmer Zombie for the street fight.
A little background, perhaps?
I live on the Downtown EastSide, an area where the average life expectancy has been estimated as low as 33 years, thanks to AIDS, Hep-A, Hep-B, Hep-C, tuburculosis, and a whole epidemiology text of diseases that were thought to belong to Victorian novels about impoverished chambermaids, not to mention the street fighting.
A 76-year-old man died last year when he was stabbed in an argument about a spot in line at the Food Bank a block from my house.
People on the things people are on down here are touchy.
But they are, as a rule, paranoid about people who look respectable. They know damn well you’ll call the cops on them and the cops will pay attention to you, so the violence is pretty much street-on-street, not street-on-norm, if you know what I mean, and if you don’t, perhaps I’ve lived down here too long.
But I was on the West Side. That’s the thing: the West Side is where we keep the Yuppies, the Preppies, and the Really Rich People From Hong Kong.
I’m never going west of Carrall Street again!
So, there I was on the West Side, minding, very much, my own business, as one does when one has a lot to think about at ten o’clock at night, and I came to a construction site, of which there are not a few in this fair burg, the population consisting almost entirely of real estate developers, or at least so you’d guess from the way City Hall acts sometimes. And, as they are, it was shrouded with a big wooden hoarding, with a leaky roof over the sidewalk and some big, boxy pillars holding the darn thing up, bulking up between the narrowed sidewalk and the road like a row of soldiers whose mission it was to ensure that NO TWIN STROLLERS passed this way, nor no wheelchairs neither.
And there was a clot of teenagers sitting on a concrete bulwark that the construction dudes had thrown up here and there, because they thought it didn’t look narrow enough. And yea verily, they were being loud and obnoxious and getting up and standing in the middle of the sidewalk, rending it impassible and then going and sitting down and then getting up and doing it again, not because they didn’t want anyone to pass, but rather because they were that kind of young and drunk that doesn’t recognize that other people exist except as vague objects in the background.
And, of all of the kinds of people in the world, this would have to be right up there in the not-my-favorite-kind rankings, although there is a good deal of competition for the upper ranks, as you may imagine.
and just as I passed, minding, did I mention, my own business, when one of them gets up in the middle of the sidewalk and starts doing, to judge by the gestures, Hamlet’s Soliloquy or maybe the Dying Swan bit, but she does this arm-flingy thing which I did see coming, for lo I was neither drunk nor unskilled in the reading of the body language of strangers, and I put my hand up and I brushed her arm away from the space in the middle that I wanted to occupy, indeed had to occupy or just stand behind her, backing up occasionally when she stepped back, and patiently wait for the end of Act IV, which was not actually my preference, and I occupied it and kept walking, to a chorus of “Did she DISS us? She DISSED us. You can’t DISS us!”
And if there is one thing I hate more than a drunken, obnoxious teenager, it’s a drunken, obnoxious teenager pretending to be a black American. I don’t know if you can call Aboriginal people and Indo-Canadians “wiggers” but I probably would have, had I had the time to think about it, which I did not.
Anyway, as the dialogue was not promising to be elevated, I merely flipped a two-handed bird and kept walking.
I was waiting for the light at the corner of Thurlow and Alberni when two of them jumped me from behind.
This is where the zombie makeup comes in. The zombie makeup is important, and for quite a different reason than the zombie outfit.
As they were raining sloppy-drunk punches harmlessly on the backpack padded with a 400-page Vanity Fair, one of them got in front, presumably to punch me in the face, but when she got a look she yelled to the other one, “Hey, stop! It’s an old lady!”
Brilliant. I must remember to tip the makeup artist!
She stopped punching and continued yelling at her friend to stop, but her friend was both younger and drunker than she was. This second girl was about 16, wearing a navy hoodie, East Indian, and very far gone: she had that Droogy smile on her face that tells you she can feel no pain and probably cannot even walk upright and speak at the same time, but she did seem to think she could throw a punch, which is where the zombie outfit comes in.
It takes a great many layers to dress as Farmer Zombie; as with any show business production, it takes much more work behind the scenes than you would typically imagine, should you be given to spending your time in this way, which is something I don’t recommend; just do crosswords or something instead. So, to dress as Farmer Zombie I was wearing, in addition to traditional undergarmenture which I shall leave to your imagination, a reversible (thus, 2-layered) polarfleece sweatshirt, overalls, and one of Vancouver’s patented Cowichan Sweaters, a sweater thick enough to stop Vancouver rain in its tracks, and probably thick enough to slow down if not stop a bullet as well. I think they invented them as knife fight armour, but I could be wrong.
And the backpack.
It was good that I put my hair in pigtails, as it enabled me to collect and show the hairs lost to the police once they showed up.
So, basically only the blows to my face were doing anything and, while I do have a tender, reddish spot above my left eyebrow and a bit of blood on my right ear, I escaped relatively unscathed, except for the shotglass-volume of hair she pulled out.
lost twice that much hair and immediately regretted pulling my ear, as I thought that was a useful technique, immediately grabbed her by one of hers, and threw her into traffic by it. She’s lucky it stayed on. If I’d had time to think, I probably would have decided to do that, but I didn’t, I am simply that mean by reflex when attacked. I put a few scratches in her face and if I hadn’t given myself a manicure recently it would have been quite nasty. I DID bite her on the shoulder, but I don’t think she felt that through the hoodie. I squashed her nose with the flat of my hand, although not effectively like Charles Bronson would have. Sorry, I hope he’s not disappointed in me. At one point we were grappling and a shoulder presented itself to me which was not mine and I, like any good zombie, bit the hell out of it.
And it must be said that the onslaught was definitely registering on her, because after awhile she backed off and let her friends lead her away.
At one point in the fight some guys a block away yelled “Do you need help?” and I answered back “Yes, get her OFF me!” and thanks, guys who then proceeded to do nothing whatsoever. Why aren’t you in Afghanistan? They need someone to work at the Tim Horton’s. Really, you shouldn’t have. Oh, right. You didn’t.
However, one thing booze does if taken in sufficient quantities is put a crimp in your short-term memory, because she was back while I was still straightening my Cowichan and calling the police, jumping me from behind again (duh, why did I turn my back? Because I’m overconfident. Why did I forget to go for the eyes or do any of the things I’ve learned the cops do, like flicking on the eyeball? Because I don’t get into fights very often. Why don’t I get into fights more often? Because even though I have no life, I have better things to do and besides, I live in Canada). This time she grabbed my glasses and threw them into the street. This time she lost a LOT more hair and ended up getting knocked down, whereupon her friends dragged her away.
It was definitely a girlfight.
That’s when I really lost my temper. Those are $500 glasses, as I informed just about everyone on Robson Street at the top of my lungs (for the furriners, Robson Street at 10:30 on a Friday night is probably the busiest street in Canada, and it was a half-block away). The first girl, a tall Native girl in a cream hoodie, went out into the street looking for them while the boy took the other girl away, and eventually Cream found them for me, for which I thanked her profusely. We locked eyes and she apologized, sincerely and with a bit of fear if I’m any judge of character.
At some point in here, Navy decided to wobble back to me and apologize and offer me a bribe to forget the whole thing, but I just laughed bitterly and held up a “talk to the hand” hand and said “we’ll discuss that some other time.” Gawd I’m pompous when I’ve won a fight, although when, really, am I not? I ask you.
So at that point I call the cops again, them having been disconnected from me during the fight, and as I’m trying to dial 911 and typing in 11 414 999 or any string of random, catchy numbers and attempting to talk my fingers to cooperating, my roommate calls. I say “Can’t talk” hang up on him, and finally get 911, who then take down all the details; I’d only gotten as far as location before.
As we’re going through the routine of a 911 call, the Sidewalk Warriors cross the street and stop in front of the 7-11 diagonal to me, where Cream hoodie proceeds to ream out Navy at length and at volume. “You’re a woman now! You can’t do that!” are a couple of the things I hear, although it must be said that Cream hoodie was all for the attack when she thought I wasn’t an old lady. A shit-kicking old lady.
But it was funny when she tried to walk away and a crowd of goretex clad warriors formed a wall in front of her and refused to let her walk past. She was herded like a cow to slaughter.
Eventually they wander off down Alberni and the police dispatcher says the cops are waiting for me, but they’re at the wrong corner and I should walk over to them. They’re a block south on Robson, which runs parallel to Alberni. So I get up there and there are two very cleancut-looking guys in sweaters and watch caps and a nice
blue sedan standard cop car (actually, it was a standard white paint job, I remember from later when I was sitting in the back and looking at the paint, but my memory quite stubbornly says it was a blue sedan at that corner, oh well, maybe it has a button to change colour, like KITT or something?) and I get in and we go down Robson and as I’m showing off the little rat’s nest of expensively-tinted hair she pulled out we turn right at Bute, the next street, hoping to catch them on Alberni, but there they are coming up Bute and we turn into the alley with our butt in the street, blocking the sidewalk so as to draw maximum attention, and they spring the doors and step out, calmly saying “Don’t walk away, guys.”
The next twenty minutes are blissfully dull for me, and really it’s for the best. I sat there and every five minutes or so one or the other cop would come back and let me know what was happening. They separated Navy from the others right away and one spoke to her while the other spoke to the other two, one at a time so they couldn’t coordinate stories or anything.
First report from Watchcap Cop I: They’re all really drunk and underage, and they’re carrying booze so we’re going to see if they have any ID on them. You say Cream was helpful, she was nice and apologized? She says she told her friend to stop hitting you because you were, as she put it, “an elder.”
I think he was euphemizing there. I confirmed that this was square with my recollection as well, and that she’d lectured her friend as well. I said that I had no problem with her. I looked at Navy and said, “She’s Native? I thought she was Indo-Canadian. I live on the Downtown EastSide, I need to be good at this kind of thing.”
Watchcap Cop I: No, she is Indo-Canadian. Her friends are Native. You’re good enough. Well, what do you want to do here? It’s doubtful an assault charge would stick because you did act first.
I said that I wanted the cops to see if they were on probation, particularly since alcohol was involved, and if there were any actions the cops thought they wanted to take, that would be fine with me. I said I had no issue with Cream or Dude, but I needed some time to think about Navy, and he said he understood and walked back to continue the questioning.
At some point, Navy was put in handcuffs. At some other, early point a white cruiser pulled up right behind us, effectively blocking Bute to traffic. Needless to say, lights were going on all cars for maximum exposure. At this point I am no longer sure it’s not a blue ghost car I’m sitting in, I just know that it’s really nice and that neither I nor the cops wore our seatbelts on the short drive. But they could hardly ticket me: mutually assured destruction!
There’s an apartment building on Bute that has a million-dollar Dale Chihuly sculpture on public display, and nicely lit, too. That’s a block North of where this went down. We were right by the apartments that have the beautiful Zen waterfall and the big boulder and the saying
“In rivers the water you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes. So with Time Present.”
I don’t know what it means.
Watchcap Cop II comes over and says: We’re checking to see if Navy’s story matches up or if she’ll start lying. If she’s honest, we’ll take that into account. You say she offered you money?
Me: yes. I didn’t take it. I’m not very bright.
WCII: well how much do you think she had, eh? *chuckles* We’ve seized their booze and we might throw her in the tank for Drunk & Disorderly depending on whether or not she lies to us. We’re not gonna hold the others, since they have been totally cooperative.
Me: what kinda booze do they have? I could use a drink, myself at this point.
WCII: not bad stuff, actually. Heh, I like to party, and that’s not bad stuff.
It later turns out to be Bacardi White. I don’t generally like those kinds of parties, myself. In retrospect I think he was testing me, but for what and whether I passed I do not know. I just laugh bitterly.
I am doing a great deal of sitting in the backseat with the door open and my feet on the ground, trying to unravel the tangle of hair. I don’t know why I’m doing this: I’m not going to have it woven back in or anything, but at some point it occurs to me that since I’m sitting in the back of the police car people are going to assume I’m the perpetrator unless I show them I have both hands free, so I continue to fiddle with the hair, now consciously. At some point I succeed in disentangling it completely from both itself and the ponytail elastic and think now what? but I just proceed to wind it into a ball like yarn. This keeps my hands both visible and occupied, so I do it several times.
WCI gets into the front of the car and his partner sends Dude over so WCI can check him out on the computer. Name, date of birth, all that stuff. Dude, it turns out, is from the US, hasn’t been in Canada very long. Dude is “known to police” with no outstanding warrants or parole conditions, but no ID on him, so they can’t confirm the birth date and so can confiscate the booze, unless one of the girls turns out to be a card-carrying legal drinker.
Which they do not, but you’ll have seen that coming.
Cream gets sent over and is cooperative and actually somewhat flirtatious, but who can blame her: those two cops are hawt. “Hey Cream,” says WCI or II, I forget at this point but he was definitely flirting back in a power game way, “didn’t I arrest you before? We’ve got to stop meeting like this!”
“Yeah well then, stop arresting me!” she zings back, giggling.
She’s 22 with no ID and a certain history with the Vancouver police which appears to involve getting into unspecified but not hard to guess trouble when drunk. She goes back to the group on the sidewalk. The cop listens to the radio and asks me again where I live. I tell him.
“Don’t take Pender Street home,” he says. “There’s a guy with a knife at Wild Rice.”
“WILD RICE?” I say, absolutely floored and/or gobsmacked.
“You know that place?”
“Yeah, I do. It’s fucking expensive!”
He smiles the “I’m dealing with a head case here” smile and says, “Not inside the restaurant. Outside the restaurant.”
I am disappointed. That’s not nearly as interesting a story. As Murphy Brown says, “That’s not a story, that’s a given.”
They call Navy over and I’m all braced for trouble but I sit in the back quietly and we don’t see each others’ faces; the cops make the interview subjects stand behind the front wheel well, forward of the open door. This seems wise.
What’s freaky is, I cannot remember anything of Navy’s interview. Oh, right. I got out of the car on the other side and walked a few steps away, standing by the little waterfall and waiting. After Navy was done, she went back against the wall, handcuffs out and glinting in the light of the full moon. Full moons, Halloween, and drunken kids are a nasty combination. Her head is as low as it will go without snapping the vertibrae. I have not caught her name, although I got the names of each of the others. It might be interesting to have, but then it would imply a chain of actions which I have no interest in undertaking.
WCII comes over to talk to me as I watch WCI pour out two large bottles of Bacardi in front of the subdued group. I think they were the litre bottles, so about $60 worth of booze goes to feed the boxwood along the side of the bank. Worm party!
WCII: Well, they all told the truth. I don’t know what you want to do but at this point it looks like we’re not holding anyone. We could still take Navy in for Drunk and Disorderly and throw her in the tank. She has expressed remorse. And their night is pretty much ruined any way you look at it. They lost a lot of booze, one of them got beat up, they’ve been questioned by police in front of all these people for a great length of time, and if we don’t get those handcuffs off Navy immediately, she’ll probably pee her pants, because she’s been telling us she really needs to pee for three quarters of an hour. What do you want us to do?
He gave me no reason to believe that, whatever my decision, they had any intention whatsoever of removing Navy’s handcuffs immediately. I rather thought the contemplation of delay was making his night, but he was very pokerfaced, so it’s hard to say.
I said “Let them go. But first, send Cream over here.”
He looked at me like this was the one surprise of his entire week, and called out to his partner to send her down. “Her name is…—-” he told me, which I am not telling you.
She came down slowly, with a look on her face that was slightly apprehensive, quite confused, and, when she caught my eye, hopeful.
“Hi,” she said. “My name is —-. What is it?”
“I’m raincoaster. I’m sorry you lost your booze”
She laughed. “We didn’t really need it I guess!”
A pause became pregnant, and we shook hands in it.
“I just wanted to thank you. You got your friend off me and tried to keep her off. It’s a difficult position to be in, but you apologized. You took responsibility. And you found my glasses. I really appreciate that. You and I are cool. I just wanted to say that again.”
She smiled. Another pause pregnated. We hugged in it.
Then I went home.
I didn’t take Pender Street.