I have had an iPhone malfunction, which means I am temporarily unable to access the recordings of my chats with (in alphabetical order) Juliet Burton and Jenny Eclair. So, today, my blog is a simple posting of two e-mails I have received recently from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. She works in a bookshop in Vancouver, British Columbia. This is what she e-mailed two days ago:
Today the demolition of the Marble Arch Hotel’s innards was going full swing. They have lost their bin tarpaulin and clouds of white dust billow up from it. The workers hose the dust clouds sporadically… to no effect.
A couple of customers are in the store. One gent shakes his head. “They should have just burned it,“ he said, referring to the hotel.
Outside stand the inmates of the former hotel, dressed in the scrupulously outlandish style affordable only to the chronically unemployed… contrasting with the chunky workmen clad in dusty overalls who are gathered nearby.
A friendly hippy transvestite meanders into the bookshop wearing a home-made woollen hat, a shawl and a batiked skirt. She is looking for science fiction novels and confides that she is new in the neighborhood, having only lived here for seven months…
“Well, welcome,” I say, hiding my true feelings about the area. “Soon you will be able to apply for a passport.”
Just then the telephone rings. On the line is a young man in tears because a book of his has been damaged.
“The pages are alright,” he sobs, “but the spine…” At this point, he breaks down… “It will never be the same,” he cries. “I want to kill myself.”
I speak to him calmly, but in a firm tone.
“Wait a minute,” I say. “YOU are more important than the book. You should bring it in and I will show it to my boss. He is really good at repairing books.”
The sobs slow.
“Or else you could call Inquiry BC,” I suggest. “They can recommend the best way to deal with it.”
“I already called them,” he wails. “They said I should call YOU…”
Some time after receiving that e-mail, I asked Anna to send me a photo of Bigfoot. I cannot remember why. But it seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea at the time.
Yesterday, I got this reply:
Paul Fraser will be eighty in March. He is a pianist. He is gay. He says Bigfoot definitely exists and the Yeti too. I asked if they are gay and he laughed and said that he wasn’t sure about that.
After my shift at the store, I went to Blenz Coffee Shop with Vivian and Paul.
Paul is a lively beer-drinking, cigar-chomping bon vivant. He is charming, articulate and knows all the forgotten songs. He is well-dressed, in a flamboyantly scruffy cowboy-esque style.
The baristas at Blenz Coffee Shop are young Japanese girls.
We ordered our coffees and, when they arrived, Paul asked for a spoon.
The baristas did not give him a spoon.
“He wants a spoon,” I repeated helpfully, “for his sugar….”
They pretended not to understand us and cheerfully pointed to the stir sticks.
Vivian is a three hundred pound, five foot tall, exhausted, fifty-year-old Chipewyan.
She finally begged: “OH, FOR GODSAKES – GIVE HIM A SPOON. HE’S FROM THE 1920s! ”
Last week, Vivian told me that Paul had to get a passport.
“A passport?” I asked. “Why does he need a passport? I thought he was going into a home.”
“No, he got a job on a cruise ship,” Vivian said,
Last night, when Vivian invited me to visit Paul at his apartment, I said: “I thought he went to sea…”
“Oh no,” Vivian said. “He quit.”
I had never been to Paul’s apartment before.
We arrived there at about 11.00pm. Inside was a haze of cigar smoke and quantities of beer.
At about midnight, the doorbell rang. Paul said: “That will be Bob.”
Bob came up. He was 29 years old, over seven feet tall and dressed like a cowboy, except that he was wearing a very new baseball hat that said KOREA on it. He had big feet.
“Have you been in Korea?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Bob, then he took out a flashy-looking guitar, which he said was actually cheap, and played some popular songs while Paul gazed proudly at him.
Paul occasionally made comments about the songs like: “That was a hit for three months in 1941” – and then they played some very pleasing piano and guitar duets. They are considering touring Japan together.
Paul showed me his faded scrapbook with newspaper clippings of the performances of his youth (he played in Canada and Europe), his scholarship awards and clippings of other musicians he had met and admired, including Glenn Gould and Paul Robeson.
That was during the time when Robeson was excluded from playing overseas (his passport was cancelled during the McCarthy witch hunts), so Robeson came to Peace Arch Park which straddles the US/Canada border at White Rock (just south of Vancouver) and did a free peace concert there, which Paul Fraser attended.
He said it is OK if I want to send stuff about him for your blog.
His scrapbook has odd clippings, like one about the first American-born viola player and other odd items. Another is about an early female black American singer. The article notes that she was admired for her modest dress sense and her good manners which endeared her to the crowds.
I must ask if Paul has ever had any Yetis – or Bigfoot – in his apartment.