Cheap Cigarettes

Gin said someone told her you could buy cigarettes cheap in firehalls. They don’t pay the tax, or something, she said. So we set out walking on a fine, sunny afternoon, from her Montcalm Street flat, looking for a firehall. A block or two away a big red fire engine gleamed through a wide open doorway, a couple of the firemen lounging around reading magazines or polishing up the firetruck chrome. These were some bored firemen, I thought.

It felt kind of funny walking into the place and I’d have never done it alone, I’m sure. I was young enough then so that it hadn’t been so long ago that we read about firehalls in our schoolbooks and the thing I remembered from those stories was how all the firemen slept in a big room at the top of the hall and when the bells went off they’d slide down a shiny brass pole and be off to fight a fire somewhere. Sure enough, there beside the engine was the pole going straight up through a big hole in the ceiling.

The thing I learned that day was that firemen do get bored as they don’t have many fires to fight all day and no one seems to show up at the firehall for visits. They were certainly happy to see us and took us on a tour. One guy explained how they knew where the fires were from an electronic board on the wall that lit up in certain ways depending on which firealarm got pulled. When someone phoned in with a fire to fight they got the exact address.

The firemen showed us around and answered all our questions. They took us up to their sleeping quarters where we saw the big hole in the floor with the brass pole through it. We got introduced around to all the guys. Some were playing cards. Others either read books or just sat around chewing the fat. When there was nothing left to see and we had no more questions to ask about firehalls we asked about the cigarettes.

“No, we don’t have any cheap cigarettes.”

I’d met Gin about a month earlier at The Penthouse where I was setting up some lightshow stuff. Billy Georgette was playing piano in a band there that also included Ron Proby on trumpet, Brian Barley on tenor, and Blaine Wikjord on drums. Billy had the idea for the lights and dragged me up there and introduced me to the owner and we made some kind of deal. I never got any money out of it but I got to buy some nifty stuff and I had some fun for a couple of weeks.

Gin was having a drink at the bar and we got into a conversation. She was very beautiful – I was extremely attracted to her. I soon found out though that she was living with Spider, over on Montcalm Street. I knew Spider, but this was the first time I laid eyes on Gin. We all became friends.

The rest of the story is short and tragic. Spider and Gin came out to Vancouver when I was there and we spent a little time together, the three of us. They’d had a little baby boy by then who they named Wu Wang, after the twenty-fifth hexagram of the I Ching (Innocence – The Unexpected) I forget Spider’s real name but his last name was Thomas. I thought Wu Wang Thomas was a pretty cool name. Gin’s name turned out to be Virginia. Regardless, things went badly for them. I don’t know what or how but it seems Spider must have been pretty fucked up. Gin came to me several times for comfort, for understanding, and for sex. After a little of each I felt I had to turn her away. She was a married woman, and a mother.

When I next saw her I was with Judy in Stanley Park, nearly twenty years later. There was Gin sitting on a blanket beautiful as ever and pregnant. She had a new man, a juggler who gave me his business card.

Later Judy told me that Spider had killed Wu Wang their son, many years earlier.

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