So, the opinion no one needed shared at the location where no one will see it. (And what more fitting fate for the obscure than obscurity?) Everyone's been wondering (admit it!) what were my thoughts at the announcement of the closure of the downtown branch of the Chapters megachain bookstore (now closed 3 days ago, June 7th) -- a brand for which I have no love lost. Nonetheless, I do have several fond (or, at least, poignant) memories associated with the place -- though largely the fondness only relates to the Chapters itself at an arms'-length second-degree distance of abstraction, more a thinking back to how my life was and what the state of the world was like at such times as my paths very sporadically crossed with that store.
(It's important for me to remain in the habit of putting my thoughts down in words. These are swiping, tapping times, optimised for the passive consumption of someone else's creative endeavours, but keeping these output channels in working condition, this antiquated custom of the perblog, in the event that I someday find I have something to say that people need to hear... is important to me.) (Of course, sharing my hypothetical 10 thousand word essay on Tumblr -- or... wherever are the people at these days, anyhow? -- would only baffle today's cyber-flaneurs. I guess the place the readers are is Reddit, but I haven't managed to come to terms yet with its unrulier elements.)
Sarah-Jane, who cold-called me via ICQ looking for a friendly stranger near the landing pad before relocating from New Brunswick to Vancouver (and took up with my roommate following my failure to read between the H-game-sharing lines and hit on her), found the building's showboating architecture ostentatious, an opinion informing my own ongoing characterization of the construction as earthquake-bait. (Last I heard a decade back, with nothing but gumption and direction -- knowing where she wanted to be, and having some idea of how to get there -- she had successfully re-invented her re-invented self into a self-sustaining paying career in the arts, which is more than I ever managed.)
During the Vancouver Poetry Slam's many years in the wilderness, shambling from marginal venue to marginal venue and failing to find its groove before landing at Cafe Deux Soleils and exploding into a bona fide phenomenon, they did at least one public-outreach "slam" at Chapters, for prizes and acclaim but no standing in the season's league rankings. This was my nearest-to-triumphant performance poetry success... in years at the hungry inception of the local poetry slam scene, I'd milled around fecklessly, read endlessly at open mics and drunk in countless slams without ever qualifying to progress to the second round. (Sometimes circumstances had to contort quite a bit to lock me out: on one occasion, short one poet for a full slate, the owner of the late Old Times Cafe at Pender & Homer -- the slam's first home -- was drafted at the last minute to round out the roster, ultimately edging me out of progression by a fraction of a point with an improvised poem. I know -- what, let it go? He sure as heck has no memory of me! And yet my mastery over the petty and trivial may be the one area in which I've ever demonstrated unquestionable supremacy! Just kidding -- it was the profound irony felt at the time that stayed with me all these years, where triumphs would have blurred together and been forgotten in a muddy glow of warm fuzzy feelings. Every failure, conversely, is intensely recalled as a distinct sharp stab of despair! As I've noted elsewhere, this makes travelling through my home town a problem, because everywhere I go I am stung with resentment when passing the sites of businesses by the bushel that once declined to hire me.)
My poems could be appreciated by your run of the mill poetry fan (and indeed, I was received very graciously at Seattle open mics I visited during the 2001 slam championships in that city, which I haunted the audiences of) but they were never calculated to appeal along the same lines that slam relied on -- what I might characterise as broad strokes and emotional appeals, bereft of challenging approaches or complicated subjects. (Especially, I loved to make obscure references, quotations and echoes -- as Al Mader might say, "You don't understand? Look it up!", but his bold delivery of baffling lines enjoyed better reception than my clandestine utterances. After all, if your verses are worth being confident about, why not yell all of them?)
In this case (back at Chapters now, remember?), Vincent "Vincy" Kamberk, another artsy weirdo at the fringes of the local performance poetry scene, beamed down on a rainbow and snatched my crown away at the last minute with material that, like mine, had no real case for winning a poetry slam except among non-slam poets. (As best as I can tell, it is his only poem, a party trick of sorts. "There was a-wax all ah-hover the place!") I don't remember what the unwon first prize was -- probably a small pot of cash or in-store credit, lucky for me to avoid winning so as to be given a promising sign encouraging further travel down the treacherous and unsustainable route of literature -- but fortunately for me I was really able to appreciate the consolation prize: the album Dopamine by Mitchell Froom (you know, the guy who was married to Suzanne Vega for a while?) In a show of poor sportsmanship I didn't want to take it home at the time, but after monkeypudding gushed a bit over the hip sounds of this unknown-to-me producer, I managed to bring it back and even enjoy it extensively, each track featuring a different "guest star", really samplings from a varied array of artists he'd produced. I listened to it dozens of times and reconciled myself to the notion of my art at least garnering me further art, a breakeven exchange. (I won out, actually: Dopamine was superior art to mine.)
On another occasion I returned to Chapters for a "magnetic poetry slam" (how early was it that the label "reading" had been supplanted by "slam" entirely, regardless of appropriateness? all poetry performance now is a slam the same way that all Internet use is Facebooking), featuring the inventor of Magnetic Poetry discussing his curious journey. An "is someone writing this down?" moment elapsed, which I dutifully documented over at everything2, subsequently reconceiving of my reportage as a kind of found poetry, including it as "accident in the intersection of art and commerce" for my portfolio application to the Creative Writing department at UBC.
(My application was not approved, and I didn't get into the program, though I was cleared to attend individual creative writing classes in such intriguing esoteric specialties as translation and radio plays. But I could not attend any classes at UBC without being approved to major in some other department elsewhere on campus, and putting all my eggs in one basket it had never even occurred to me to apply anywhere else (which with my trampoline GPA was not really in the cards in any event. I had never made any life plans that didn't revolve around my becoming a verbal golden god, a literary rising star destined to challenge the national discourse with his inspired word-experiments.) With final exam nightmare logic I always fear there is some remote possibility that I was actually cleared to attend and registered for CW classes at UBC that I just failed to attend... my actual understanding of departmental bureaucracy at the post-secondary level was always vague at best, and my well-intentioned parents -- unwilling to allow something as important as my university education be undermined by my unpragmatic vagueness -- muddied the waters with appeals to outdated admission and enrolment standards from their time in university quite a bit earlier. My friends were too tied up with their own confusing journeys to help much, though I recall icecreamemperor actually registering me for my first set of college courses, and my institutional allergy (reasoning to self: can any knot this Gordian actually be worth straightening out?) precluded it even occurring to me to seek guidance through academic counsellors on staff. And of course it has now been well over a decade since my sporadic academic career last twitched. One must assume any remaining transcripts would actually have spontaneously composted by now, were they not so imbued with the sheer toxicity of their contents.)
In the Crooked Chapters (no value judgement -- just a description of its ostentatious architecture, remember. But hey, remember that classic Simpsons episode? Bart: "Behold the horrors of the slanty shanty! See the twisted creatures that dwell within! Meet Cue Ball, The Man with No Hair!") I was once shocked to encounter master drummer Shawn Killaly in a staff uniform, excited to bump into some hep cats and jar the monotony of the grind of working there. This was not shocking due to the terrifying expressions he's been known to make (basically: he can't stop making) during face-melting drum solos, nor due to concern that his pride in performing for General Suharto during APEC '97 (note to self: post WRASTAJAM story somewhere sometime) actually, sometime never comes: post it here, now:
THE STORY OF TAJA BY TOVE FENGER
Once upon a time, there were four highschool girls who were best of friends. For the most part, the inseparable four were quite lazy, but every once in a while they would transform into superheroes when the need for them arose.
When transformed, Jenna and Tove would become Whiplash and Frisbo: a dynamic, Frisbee-throwing, unconquerable, fighting duo known throughout the land. Quiet and innocent looking Agata became loud, evil and oh-so cool. As a superhero, she liked to be known as the Mix-Master, for she could poison any being by feeding them one of her irresistible iced-mochas. Her true title was, however, Dagger-Queen, due to her uncanny ability to throw any sharp object from any distance. Last, but not least, was sweet, young Anna, who, by using her womanly wiles, could lure anybody into her living room where they promptly fell into a coma. She was known as the Foul Temptress, which pleased her greatly.
The four superheroes were not needed often, because who would call upon four weak teenagers rather than the X-Men? In any case, they prided themselves in their mysterious secret. They did not believe they had any kind of purpose.
One day, the four girls were lounging around at Jenna's house, discussing their upcoming graduation. Jenna's cat Scatter wandered about them, making himself useless.
"What's going to happen to TAJA after I wanna fuck you like an animal. Cum Cum Cum to me... Heh heh heh, aren't I just grossitating!" Anna cried fitfully. (Authors note: Actually, Maija grabbed the keyboard from me, as you may well have guessed. What Anna would have said in TOVE's version of the story is "What's going to happen to TAJA after we graduate?")
"Who cares. Like we ever did anything useful anyway. Sure, we attacked Ainsley's car, and that was fun, but was there ever really any point?" said Agata.
"I suppose not. But we may as well have some more reckless fun with these kickass powers we
mysteriously gained." said Tove.
"Hang on a sec guys, you have a mission to accomplish before you split apart." said Scatter. Then everybody started screaming, and bolted out the door. When they ventured back a few hours later, Scatter was still there.
"Jenna, you left the door wide open, and Jim wasn't even home." said Scatter.
"Aaaaaaaaaaaaah, Scatter. What the hell is going on?" whimpered Jenna. Tove started laughing hysterically.
"You people need to calm down. Geez. Anyway, I may as well explain. I picked you four when you became friends to have these powers. Soon after that, you discovered them. However, you guys didn't try to do very many things, and didn't realize that you have way more powers than throwing a Frisbee or mixing a drink."
"Really? That rocks." said Tove.
"Yes. Jenna, your ass kicking boots really are ass-kickers. Kick them to the moon you will. Agata, your mother may not have realized it, but I have installed a jet engine in your car. Just find the switch under the drivers seat."
"all right! Horse power! Beat that Scuby!" exclaimed Agata.
"Uh, Scatter, how the hell did you manage to install a jet engine in a car? You're just a cat and I'm sure you haven't taken any mechanics courses."said Jenna.
"Anna," said Scatter, "your house is a time machine. That's why everybody falls asleep there. Put it into use. It has something to do with the dishwasher controls. Tove, your trampoline is like a transporter. Select your destination and voila! You're there."
The girls looked at one another in confused silence.
"Uh, Scatter," said Jenna, "what now?"
"Well, if you want to know what your mission is, I don't even know myself. I have been informed that a mission will be given soon though."
"Informed? Informed by who?" demanded Agata.
"You will know soon enough. My job for now is to train you four into warriors, not slack-jawed pansy girls."
"Damn." Tove spoke for all.
The next week involved rigorous training, enforced by Scatter. And every night of that week, Scatter was punished by Jenna for working them so hard. Sadly, the training became progressively more difficult, as Scatter did not enjoy sleeping outdoors every night.
At the end of the week, the four were regrouped once more. "All right team, you are the four TAJA scouts, a rather unimaginative name on your part I might add." said Scatter.
"All right guys," said Tove,"let's go. Tovaaaaaaa POWER!!!!!" And with a flash, Tove became Frisbo, a badly named yet illustrious Frisbee fighter with a lust for danger (and for life, and for Brad Pitt ). "That sure looked lame. Oh well. Agataaaaaaa POWER!!!!!!!!" There stood the Dagger-Queen in all her glory; eyes blazing and blades glinting in the sun.
"If I have to...Jennaaaaaaa POWER!!!!!!!" Tall black boots shone as though freshly polished, with laces that were finally the exact right lengths. The full length black velvet cape blew ever so slightly in the breeze. Whiplash stood with her razor-edged Frisbee in hand.
"My turn. Annaaaaaaaa POWER!!!!!!!!" Clad in deep crimson, Anna was now the Foul Temptress, which still greatly pleased her. About her neck was a strange amulet, inset with a ruby. None of them had seen it before.
"Don't worry about the amulet yet Anna. It'll know what to do when the time comes." assured Scatter.
They set off in the jet engine car, which took some getting used to I might add. As they sped along Broadway, the amulet started pulsing a bit. Anna shrieked, and grabbed at it. Agata pulled over to a side street. Anna leapt out of the car. "Let's just follow her," said Scatter, "she's leading us somewhere."
Anna seemed to be wandering aimlessly around Kinko's, which is where they had pulled over. She was very much in a trance, but it might have been the effects of the Copy Center. After a few minutes, Anna wandered out of Kinko's up towards 7-11. The amulet was visibly glowing now. The rest of the group followed Anna into the coveted convenience store. The amulet led Anna to the Slurpee machine, however it is believed that it was acting under her influence for a moment or two. She was then pulled to the other side of the 7-11, where Alison and Maija were chatting. "It's kinda weird that we're both here on a weekend, isn't it?" said Alison to Maija, as Anna approached.
From outside of the store, one could see a bright red flash coming from inside, but if one did see it, one would forget that it had ever happened, because this is a magic story. In other words, nobody outside saw anything of importance. Except that whole assassination thing. Nevermind. On with the story!
Meanwhile, the amulet had transformed Maija and Alison into the Star Girls, better known as the Space Twins. Somehow, these twins could send fireballs from space into any living room in America. Or anywhere else I guess. They preferred living rooms.
"So," said Scatter, "the Amulet was here to find more scouts for TAJA. You'll have to change your name though."
"I've got it! ATAJAM!" cried Tove, or rather, Frisbo.
"Oh God." said Scatter.
The slightly enlarged group was once again united at Jenna's house.
"So, the point of today's expedition was to get more of our friends in on our useless crusade?" said Anna, who was not very happy with the fact that she had been stumbling around in a trance at the 7-11.
"Yeah, I guess it was. I knew there would be more scouts, but I didn't think you would all know each other. It might be useful."
"What the hell is up with this? Scatter's talking and us losers are superheroes. Actually, that's pretty cool. Sailormoon!!!" exclaimed Alison. "But, I don't wanna have to do too much here. No more commitments." she added.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Anna's amulet started glowing, and she started walking, trancelike, for the door. "I'll get that, sit down Anna." said Jenna. At the doorstep were Woody and Rowan. "Ooh, ooh, new scouts!" cried Tove. "What are you...." said Woody, until he and Rowan were consumed by that same flash of red light.
Woody had become the Prince of Darkness, a deep-purple cloaked man of mystery. He could kill a man with a single look, and if he was mad at you, you tended to be paralyzed for a good day and a half. Within his purple shroud, he carried a golden scepter topped with a perfectly formed amethyst. He took it with him mostly because it looked cool, and because it could foresee upcoming events. ("Woody, stop trying to see who's going to win the election!")
Rowan adopted the name Godzilla. He wore either a cheap Godzillasuit, or a cheap gorilla outfit, whichever one he felt inclined to wear that day. Today he wore the Godzilla one. It was a Godzilla day. Being a giant already, Rowan's power was that he could enlarge himself to at least Godzilla size if need be. Or if he felt like it. He couldn't do much else, but who needs to if you're Godzilla size.
"Time to rename ourselves again." said Agata.
"I've got it yet again! WRATAJAM!"
"Good one Tove."
Quite without warning, Scuby appeared in the middle of Jenna's living room, where the congregation was standing.
"I was bouncing on Tove's trampoline, when I thought about Jenna's barbecue. All of the sudden, I was in your living room." he said, slightly confused.
"Wait a minute, can't only WRATAJAM scouts make use of the transporter? That must mean that Scuby's one of us." deduced Tove.
"WRATAJAM? Who thought up that crappy name?" Everybody looked at Tove.
"Since he has not been transformed, he must not be an actual scout. But I think he has some kind of purpose if he was able to transport via the trampoline." concluded Scatter. "No no, it's tramampoline." corrected Alison.
"Scuby, why were you bouncing on my tramampoline?" asked Tove suspiciously.
"I was driving by and no one was home." He smiled guiltily.
"Okay, since you all hate the name so much, I'm going to rename it. It's now WRASTAJAM."
The car was adjusted to fit nine people and a large cat relatively comfortably. It was decided that Scuby's purpose was to drive the Jet engine car, since who else really suited this task?
"Okay guys, where to?" asked Scuby as he slipped into the drivers seat.
"I've installed a computer screen into the front panel. We should be receiving our orders soon, if my adjustments were correct." said Scatter.
"Scatter, you never cease to amaze me. Why haven't you installed our e-mail yet?" harassed Jenna.
"Wait a minute Jenna, who is it that we would be receiving orders from? THIS is something we haven't been informed of yet." queried Agata once more.
"All right, all right. Our chiefs' name is the Big M. You'll know who exactly it is when the message comes through."
"Hey guys, check it out. I figured out where all the games are on this thing, and I've managed to create a program for doing Physics while driving. Oh yeah, and there seems to be a message coming through." said Scuby. The computer said : 'You've got mail." A message came across the screen.
"Hey guys. This rocks, eh? I suppose you've figured out who this is, the Big M and all. I came up with the name myself. There are no orders yet, but I've sent a sound clip of the Odds for you while you're driving. :) Cheers, Megan:D, I mean, the Big M."
"Aha, so it was Megan all along!" cried Agata.
"Well, obviously." said Alison.
With the sound of the Odds blasting out of the computer, WRASTAJAM drove around the city aimlessly.
After two hours of cruising at top speed, the gang decided to go back to Jenna's house, which seemed to have become headquarters. This was OK with Jenna because Jim had decided to go on a spur of the moment trip to Georgia with some woman named Mary-Lou. The house seemed strangely different to them upon their return.
"Scatter, you... nevermind, I've said it before." The living room was filled with computer terminals, view screens and even a state of the art catnip dispenser.
"Hey, I have a feeling that catnip dispenser wasn't installed for me..." said Rowan.
"Yeah, well... What's that over there?" said Scatter, pointing his paw in the general direction of the wall.
"Nice try, Scatter."
"What's up with this room?" asked Anna. They looked around them once again. There were ten stations, each with control panels and screens of some kind. There was a chair, and a scratching post, next to the Catnip dispenser, along with an intercom-like panel, all in the center of the room. The large view screen was part of the bay window, and the other nine stations were around the room.
"This place looks an awful lot like..."
"The living room is now known as the Bridge." said Scatter, interrupting Maija. "You can each monitor various things from your stations. Here comes a transmission from the Big M."
The view screen lit up. There was Megan's face, much larger than life. "Hi guys. Uh... oh yeah, a mission or something. Ok, here goes. Our enemy is very close by. Too close, but these are the best quarters we can get a hold of. She looks small and weak, but she can get you if you're not paying attention. She has a sidekick, just as lethal, and much more irritating. There's a sensor at Alison's station that'll alert you if either one is near. If you people think and use some logic, then you should be okay. I'm off to catch a eezer show, then I'll be flying to Halifax to check out the Halifax Pop Explosion. Also some other cool bands are playing. Have a good time guys! I know I will."
"Ohhhh, Megan, Weezer is playing?! Why can't you bring me along? Noooooo Rivers!" Alison screamed.
"Maybe next time. Gotta motor!" And with that, Megan was gone, leaving Alison whining for Rivers and everyone else running to their stations.
"This is so neat! I could play with this thing forever." Anna gazed and fiddled with her control panel.
"Careful, Anna. You're station has the self-destruct gears in it." warned Scatter.
"Aah!" Anna shrieked and pulled away from her panel. "Okay, who has the instruction manual?" Agata tossed it to her with a look of contempt. Anna huddled into her chair and started reading.
"Don't even bother too much with the manual. You should learn lots by looking around your terminal. Just don't do anything rash with your controls.... as I was saying, Rowan." Rowan had somehow succeeded in changing the strength of gravity within the house.
"I'm sorry, but you didn't expect me to just leave gravity as it was, did you?" Nobody answered. Rowan resumed normal gravity levels.
"Never do that again Rowan!" Alison scolded.
Everyone began to discover their stations. Each one had fingerprint identification, as well as a retina scan so that only the true user could activate it. Each one also contained some sort of defense control, such as phasers and Photon torpedos. Maybe that was some other Bridge though.....
"Hey guys, how long have we been doing this?" Jenna woke from her slumber. Tove woke as well, along with Maija, Alison and Woody.
"Six hours, I guess. Our turn for sleep." Scuby got up and shoved Tove out of her cot. (Don't ask how all those cots got set up, because I know Jenna doesn't own any. Let's just let it be.)
The second shift got to their stations. Anna, Agata, Rowan and Scuby (who was already in Tove's warm bed....grrrrr) got into the cots and fell asleep. ("It's almost as though they're in Anna's living room.")
"Oh man, I hope no one expects me to do anything important, because I don't get how to use this thing." Maija poked at her terminal.
"Yeah, me too. But just pretend it's a pinball machine." suggested Alison.
"Noooooo! Please don't do that!" Scatter glared at Alison.
"Hey, check it out: the distress-o-meter says there's someone in distress!" Tove watched her screen.
"On screen." said Jenna, with a very Captain Picard-esque quality to her voice.
"Jenna, who nominated you to be captain of this vessel, huh?" said Tove, with an air of disdain.
Eventually, after a bit of griping, yelling and a round of thumb-wars, Jenna was named leader for the day. Then they looked at the view screen.
"Check it out, it's Micheal! And he looks as bitter as he normally does! Perhaps more!" Everyone agreed with Alison.
"To the Batmobile!" cried Jenna.
"No, to the Mirthmobile!" countered Tove.
"No, we have to come up with a better name than those!" exclaimed Woody.
"I've got it!" cried Maija, "The Funkmobile!"
Since Woody was the only one with a license of all those who weren't in stasis, he was nominated to drive. "I would drive, but I can't start and stop on a hill." explained Jenna.
They drove the eight blocks to school, since that's where Micheal had been for the past little while. "He's not lookin' too good." said Tove.
"Maybe he's in shock." said Alison.
"Micheal, Micheal are you okay? Need a Slurpee or something?" They shook Micheal a bit more than gently. He groaned, and sat up.
"Oh god, the voice." Micheal sounded slightly hoarse.
"What's he talkin' about, Willis?"
"Shut up Woody."
Micheal was brought back to headquarters, where he was given a Coke and a fuzzy thing to help him out of shock. Scuby was shoved out of a cot (much to Tove's pleasure) so that Micheal could lay down.
"All right Micheal, what happened to you?" asked Jenna.
"I was walking with Amanda past school... oh God, where's Amanda? Fuck!"
"Snap out of it Micheal!" Alison slapped him across the face.
"That was hardly necessary, Alison."
"We were walking, when the door to our hallway opened, and that horrible thing emerged; evil and twisted."
"Was it one of your gaming friends?"
"No it was NOT one of my gaming friends thank you very much! She was hideous, horrible, I can't even describe it..."
"Well, you're going to have to go through every single detail quite thoroughly, so we can figure out who this bitch from hell is. I don't care if you're in trauma!" yelled Alison, who had quite suddenly become very ruthless.
After a good twenty minutes of Micheals description, interspersed with bouts of weeping and seizures, they figured out who the she-devil must be.
"That's it! It must be...." The stations erupted with flashing lights and sirens.
"Get a move on, you people! This isn't one of those fancy laser-light shows!" Scatter hustled them into motion. Those in stasis were shocked out of sleep.
"She's getting closer!!! Nooooooooooooo!!!!" Alison was momentarily spazzing. But she was right. The beast and her sidekick were getting closer to headquarters. A strange, high-pitched whine faintly came into earshot. Those with delicate hearing became enraged and started screaming.
"Quickly! Put in these earplugs! Before she blows your hearing out."
"Guys, I've got a good strategy! Just use all your weaponry at once and blow those two bitches to smithereens!"
"Good plan Rowan. Lets go for it guys." And with that, the evil-doers of Vancouver were no more. It was as simple as that. Lots of expensive equipment was unused and unneeded. Like the Time travel thing. And the transporter, unfortunately. The car was fun though. And all the control stations. A shame that they were gone before anyone had time to disassemble them and pawn them. Oh well.
WRASTAJAM soon forgot that they were ever part of a crime fighting team. They graduated, did provincials, and whatever the hell it is they had wanted to do after grad. Scatter never spoke a word of english again, although he became quite adept in Hindi. Every once in a while, they would all reunite, get pissed out of their minds and recall upon their adventures. I suppose you want to know who the sinister duo were... you've got it: Ms. Coulthart and Rapmaster Reed. Anyhow, the moral of the story is never get anyone as irritating as Ms. Coulthart to be a counsellor and alcohol solves all problems (even the really hard algebra ones).
(Now why on earth did I see fit to insert that in here? Even in the tenuous web of my mind, there's no obvious connection. After some work, I can assert -- the un-obvious connection is that I had harboured aspirations to pen a second adventure for WRASTAJAM, detailing their activities at the protests at the UBC APEC conference in 1997 -- at which Shawn Killaly performed, segue-ing seamlessly back into my describing the ill-at-easeness of encountering him working at Chapters. And... go!)
might make him a dangerous character to associate with... it was shocking because, well, think of it this way: imagine the most talented person you know with a plain and marketable aptitude for an obvious-to-apply trade. Then bump into him working at Chapters. If he wasn't equipped to live the dream, what was the point of dreaming at all, really? I figure my shock at encountering Shawn at Chapters was an analogous foreshadowing of the dismay a group of my thirsty '90s friends displayed, many years later (actually, though it's hard to imagine, that was only 4 years ago), when finally encountering me vending lemonade at Nat Bailey Stadium after I'd managed to notice and duck them for nearly the entire baseball game.
(Chapters was not a wholesale sausage-grinder of broken dreams: I know that harrysheep logged some hours in the Chapters mines between stints at Yogen Früz and Raincoast Books, mellowing into... the official social media presence for Vancouver Opera, to the best of my memory! jokrack used it as a rung in her own ladder climbing up the publishing industry. But I doubt it did anything for Shawn beyond paying the rent for a couple of months.)
One further fond and utterly profane Chapters association -- old schoolmate (and now: maternal cottage industry) Yolande had similar sour feelings regarding Chapters as mine, only amplified: her rule was that it was fine to patronize the establishment, but only for emergency bathroom use while passing through the neighbourhood. And then, to harsh the mellow of folks who had drunk the Chapters Kool-Aid and shock them out of their lotos-eating stupour... don't flush. (In this bold new post-Upper Decker era, such a relatively genteel form of protest seems almost antiquated -- quiet, impotent, but impossible to ignore.
And the final disappointment: mhalachai loved mystery novels, so for her birthday I already knew what to get her. But my complicated life left me no options beyond selecting from Chapters' offerings en route to her birthday party. I knew the perfect middle ground between my interests and hers, and was confident she would enjoy a copy of Umberto Eco's In The Name Of The Rose or Foucault's Pendulum. (no wait, that was the Granville and Broadway Chapters, on the site of the old Risty -- like the Kingsgate Mall, on VSB-owned land, apparently -- itself up on the chopping block, awaiting rebranding as an Indigo with an American Girl doll salon.) For what then this enormous building if not to stock the books one might want to purchase? Both volumes would surely be available at any used bookstore or library branch in far smaller buildings. I guess I failed to appreciate that what a bookstore sells are first-run books that are still in print. This failure (and my failure to accommodate a Plan B gift-acquisition on my way to the party) drove an awkward wedge into our already-awkward relationship. (When in doubt, blame the bookstore!)
With a serious bookseller like Pulp Fiction still in full effect, there's no need to miss a monolith like Chapters or all the stepping stones it squashed on its way to the top and over the cliff: this is one case I think where the Darwinian rules of the free market have endowed the local literary ecosystem with an efficient solution to its needs. (But I do miss Sophia Books and the Granville Book Company.) The megastores ate the big ones up -- when the dust settled after the Bollum's, Duthies, Chapters all fell ... I can't entirely blame Amazon, can I? The industry was overextended overall. Somehow Lawrence's Books down at Dunbar and 41st still manages to keep on keeping on, on expensive (but presumably owned outright) Vancouver real estate, filled with dead books no one is ever going to want to buy. (This also makes me ponder the ongoing fates of downtown used bookstores Albion, which has some books one might want to read, vs. Macleod's, which does not despite maintaining a higher profile.)
I never wrote a poem for Chapters (which, to be fair, deserves none -- maybe only a spreadsheet), but here's one I wrote on the occasion of the much-earlier passing of a far more beloved local bookstore:
ELEGY FOR BLACK SHEEP BOOKS
a far cry / from stargazing
where, to observe free from the hegemony
of those more luminous stars
one must focus upon a patch of seemingly dim space
to permit the appearance
in peripheral vision
of those subtler stars
glimmering, glowering, guttering
more coal than candle
- no less brilliant, mind you,
merely perplexed in penetration
of the observer's polluted atmosphere;
only phantoms visible out of the corner of your eye -
look at them and they're not there
instead, burning among the chapbooks
front and centre
you might be fortunate enough
to have your attention wrested for a few brief eternities
by a rope of language, words woven tight
and strong. Your concentration slowly drawn into the poet
you could fix your gaze in surrender
as all other sights would fade to nothing
your universe reducing to a few perfect worlds / in a few perfect words
and those perfect mouths what called them into being
the skeptics among us might have credited the cosmic flickering
to old wiring, fickle and perverse,
and imps of inconstant sparks
but we knew better.
One cannot know that which is not
onetime knowledge reduced to mere memory
the captivating creators consigned to fairy tales,
stories and the apocryphal annals of folklore and fable,
scattered to the vagaries of anecdote like so much divine dust.
Come - the boldest stars swing now overhead,
constellations whirling above us, needing no namers,
my eyes and mouth grow dry, beard hanging heavily upon me / and I grow weary;
we have made our myth; now we must sleep in it.
For some future post, as this one is assuredly over-done already: an examination of my curious urge -- why write to such an extent somewhere that (statistically) no one will see? Is there some connection to the presumed small-audience scrivening of (well, Live-, duh)journaling, diari(landi)zing, & corresponding? Writing for a presumed audience of greater than one (even a third of the surviving copies of first editions of James Joyce's books were never opened, never had their pages cut, by their recipients) is so historically anomalous a privilege it's easy to overlook how we can "broadcast" today and assume that people will be tuned in in mass quantities. (In fact, it can be difficult to know or prove that it isn't!) But I'm obviously not going to be able to get into this at all at this moment, so I'll just pose it as an open question of sorts.
And one final fragment from my notepad: "writing and then eventually posting weeks or months after the lion's share is written, vs. never posting, writing for nobody or just to keep in practice." I'm sure I've gone through at least a dozen mega-posts described by the latter situation: processing or working through things by putting them in words. But always the intention was to "share" them to whoever stopped by this ghost town.