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This article was published in the MAY/JUN 2002 issue of Adbusters No.41

What'sBehindSmile

Sir, you’re breathing alcohol on me.

I stomp back to my newspaper and we stew for eight minutes. Devotion comes with age but the wrong devotion. I am an animal with a product code and I have ruined her break. Lamp globes inside the zoo are lit blood oranges and the elephant is insane. This is not far from where they caught the bumbling smackhead bank robbers. I wish I was shooting skeet at Bill’s farm. 5-4-3-2-1: the bus finally roars to life and glad of it we are. Other riders climb on, but the blond driver and I have our secrets.

A big woman trots on board by the mental hospital.

Hi, how are you today? She asks me in a very happy voice.

Generations are split, I note, by eyewear, weight, and where they sit on the #11. Your mileage may vary. Our bus driver motors happily past the neo-Brutalist brick fortress; she motors straight past the corner where we are meant to turn right, turn away every 20 minutes from the hook of the frozen sea.

Our driver laughs at herself, says with a French accent,

“Guess I was supposed to hang a right back there.”

I imagine myself stranded and cursing at a stop on that lost stretch: did I miss the bus again!? Why does this always happen to me!? No idea why.

We breeze through a neighborhood where golden retrievers are walked in eager unison, rich quiet houses with scented dryers on tumble and no worries about why, confident their taupe eggs are not all in one basket.

The fortress home where our driver failed to turn: every brick, every brick felt a hand.

Hey. Is this the 14?

Two young ballcaps at the door.

We’re waiting for the 14.

This is the 11. Only the 11 on this route.

We’ll wait for it.

They sit down at the stop.

Driver says, I am the 11.

You are? Not 14?

I am the 11.

Oh.

They climb up, sheepish and angry because they’re not from a ghetto. By not being deprived, they’ve been deprived. O to be born in a ghetto, to get jiggy with the rats and rasta players.

We cut toward town, a brain in every eye. Passengers look preoccupied, working on their theory, their idea for a new flavor of ice cream: Fishsticks On The Moon!?

Like Doubting Thomas I touch the yellow pole, jump off by the gaslit steakhouse. Orestes is at the CinePlex. Downtown they are barking, breaking the statues, one memory hitting the others like a pool ball (You break).

Inside the steakhouse the man named Leckie says,

You want to work? What hours?

Full time. Work hard?

Yeah sure. What hours?

Full time. Work hard?

Pause.

Well, yeah, okay.

Leckie touches his speed-dial phone, bellows into it: wes i got your permission to hire a dishpig? wes i come in and it’s a fuggin mess, no one fuggin cleans up!

Customers stare from their steak and lettuce and garlic tinfoil. gotta sort out fuggin forks and knives, it’s a fuggin mess, crackers everywhere, no one folded any napkins. I can’t hire him I walk. It’s a fuggin mess. Okay wes you better get over here and do dishes cuz i’m fuggin walkin. Okay wes i’m walking.

Leckie leaves, he’s walking, it’s not a bluff.

Waitress Sue apologizes to a pretty woman on a business trip.

“Sorry, don’t know what’s with him today.”

Sue gives the businesswoman seven hot sauces and does her Texas waitress imitation: This one so hot it’ll make you slap yo mama! Waitress Sue touches a blue screen, and fuck! echoes from a hidden kitchen, a frycook runs out in flames. The waitress calmly sprays him down, sprays his white smock and black eyeglasses.

I’ll just leave my application on file, okay? I say to no one. Thanks! I say to no one. I walk into the snow, walk where the other guy just “walked.” Days of snowstorms, no sidewalk for freezing weeks and you miss the harvest moon’s warm grin, the moon’s prepared talk:

Hello son.

A little snowsuit kid tethered to a tree, four or five, about the age of my youngest, and this kid looks at me and says, “In my world I’m 21!”

In my world I’m about 90, in my world I need a drink or two.

Bartender says fast,

“JerryWho’sJerry?Jerry-atric?” On TV the Florida Panthers: backcheck, stick, elbow, trip, slewfoot, pitchfork, spear to groin – whistle, whistle, whistle. Try Enigma beer, says the coaster, You’re never sure what it tastes like.

A man dabbling in double ryes says to me, “You know that old Eskimo chief on the two dollar bill, hell you know him, well he got killed dead going over a cliff in a snowmobile. Now if that’s not a metaphor,” he says, “if that’s not a metaphor . . . .”

We’re paying extra to see gilded breasts, pay them to rise off the ribs, we want that breast to be a beautiful eye that turns and sees something special in us. I’m downtown with the pariahs – isn’t this what I crave? Golden naked ghosts in go-go boots, sleet in white lines like fiber optics, and more Lebensraum than you can possibly handle.

I rush to the bus stop, worrying I have Prog-Rock tendencies, jump on the 11 once more. It goes the wrong way, circles around the zoo, the Hotel-Dieu Hospital, the Rebel Motel. I forgot they changed the routes again. They change them every week or two to keep us on our toes. Drive here, drive there, turn left, turn right –soon I’m the only seasick passenger left. The driver is short with long blond hair.

She stops the bus. She yells something.

I’m way at the back, about a mile back.

What?

Sir, where are you getting off? Oceanside ends the ride. The mysteries of Hicksville.

What!?

I walk up to the front so we don’t have to yell, so we can be civilized.

She says, You should have gotten on the bus at Smut Tek. You know, by Tuna Pizza. That’s the new stop. There were a couple tiny signs that the wind has probably blown down by now.

Signs?

Signs. At the old stop by Eatons.

Eatons?

I could make you get off, I could charge you twice. I have eight minutes here for my coffee break. This is my break. It belongs to me. Do you have people hanging around on your coffee breaks?

I don’t drink coffee. What is wrong with this picture? There I am at the back reading a newspaper and you yell so I walk up to the front and then you berate me for hanging around on your break. I’m not hanging around. Do you think my idea of big fun is watching you drink coffee for eight minutes? I’m trying to get home. This is my bus, the 11.

But this isn’t the Oceanside 11, this is the Zooside 11. I could make you get off.

Is there the teensiest chance you and management could work this out on your own?

Pretty good, I lie, wondering if I have a sign on me or something.

Cold out tonight, I got a coffee at Starbucks. I got a new job at the hospital gift shop. Here’s a nice girl, here’s a nice girl. Hi girlie! How are you!? Eggs on today at Safeway, $1.64 a dozen, one per customer, not a bad price, bye! She rides one block to buy a coffee and rides one block back. She rides back and forth. We’re pale passengers rejected from some vague contest or charm school, yes we’ve lost some close elections. Then we’re on a country highway, we’re by pine woodlots on a salmon river, and a smell wracks us from the feed plant on Vanier Avenue. I seem to have traveled from BC’s restless army of addicts to New Brunswick river towns –a changeling country.

The bus pulls over by a shingle cabin with many lean-tos hammered to the original and a moose in a corral. I can see in the lit cabin windows. A mother and children have baked blackbirds in a pie. What the hey? wonders the blond driver at a map, must’ve missed something back there somewhere. Keep changing these darn routes!

And the area code, says a white-haired passenger, they changed our phone’s area code!

After VE Day a lone U-boat refused to surrender, snuck out of the Baltic sea, and crossed the Atlantic to South America, last of the Reich’s wolfpacks. Took them a long time, underwater most of the time, afraid to be spotted by Allied planes or destroyers. No sunlight, no fresh oxygen, the U-boats’s air poisoned by the mammoth batteries, everyone coughing in bunks and everything drips water, pipes and bulkheads and sausage covered with mildew, no ersatz coffee, bread wet and moldy, the sailors’ skin gone weird haunted colors – an invisible crew caught between bottom and top.

We’re trapped inside that U-boat, and I’ll never see home again. Our faces are starting to look like the pictures jailed on our driver’s licenses.

Inside the shingled cabin three boys chase each other with pistols that are actually a yellow hose nozzle, a piece of wood, and a red bicycle pump. Bang bang! Kioo! Kioo!

The eight-year-old boy shoots the four-year-old boy and the younger boy falls. The U-boat pipes are dripping, wrapped like a boxer’s hand.

“You want to come put away some laundry?” a pretty mother asks. She stands by the bed wearing soft PJ bottoms warm from the dryer. She wears nothing else.

“No thank you,” says the younger child pleasantly.Right now I’m dead.”

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