All for a loonie

All for a loonie

Joe Creasy springs things on you. And he does this when you least expect it and therefore are totally unprepared.

First, let me introduce Joe to you in a proper manner. Joe was born a Sicilian, Giuseppe Grizziani, in a hick town called Villa San Giovanni right where the toe of Italy is situated, the spot where Italy seems to be giving Sicily a kick. Giuseppe is Italian for Joseph and therefore Joe and that’s just fine, but Grizziani became Creasy, as a consequence of events that changed his life quite dramatically, one day, when he was 3.

The streetcar had been overcrowded and Joe was sitting on his Aunt Louisa’s lap, on one side of the car while his parents, Frank and Constanza Grizziani, sat facing him across the aisle. As the tram ambled along through the streets, he would catch glimpses of them between the pressed trouser legs of the passengers standing in the aisle. At times, printed cotton skirts swished by, blocking his view momentarily. His last glimpse was of them holding hands, his father turning to kiss his mother lightly on the lips and his mother smiling that lovely toothy smile of hers.

After that, things became a blur. The trouser legs now blocking his view appeared to suddenly grow a third leg that jerked up to the level of Joe’s head, pointing the other way, toward his parents. It looked like a truncated version of the shotgun Elmer Fudd had been brandishing as he gave Daffy Duck chase, down the hotel corridor in last night’s cartoon movie, screaming,” Come back heah, you cwazy duck!”

The third leg roared and Frank Grizziani’s head seemed to explode like a ripe pumpkin. The window behind shattered, raining glass and metal shards on the Cadillac Seville that was keeping pace with the streetcar. His father lay sprawled over the seat, with the upper part of his torso hanging out of the streetcar, lifted and transported by the force of the blast.

Trouser legs then turned imperceptibly, brought up the gun again and it roared a second time. The slug tore through Constanza’s throat, decapitating her totally. She remained upright for a few seconds, headless, and then collapsed sideways on the elderly woman in the adjacent seat. Trouser legs then stooped and pinned a sheet of paper with a single word ‘ratto’ on his father’s shirt front, turned and unhurriedly walked toward the exit, the gun lowered, gripped casually in one hand like you’d hold a bread roll. Everyone inside the car remained frozen, and the only sound Joe remembered hearing was clatter of the tram wheels on the uneven tracks that were embedded in the pavement.

There was a general stampede soon after, with Joe getting knocked about quite a bit, until the car had emptied out completely. Aunt Louisa drew him closer and clutched him tightly. What was left of his parents had by then slid to the floor of the car, now awash with red and slippery. A Sicilian kid is brought up quite differently, unlike kids from other parts of the world. Instead of turning his head and shielding his eyes from the horror, Aunt Louisa had made him watch the brutal murder.

Joe spent 2 years at the Batshaw Home for orphaned children at the corner of Cure Poirier and Chambly. At 5, he was adopted by a gentle pastor, Father Ned Creasy and his wife, Claire, who were childless and had been searching for a baby boy to brighten up their lives. Joe was given a wholesome, healthy childhood filled with love and prayer and the nightmares gradually stopped altogether. He grew into a well adjusted young man, ending up with a masters in aeronautical engineering from McGill and an advanced diploma in zinging and eventually settled down in a cubicle right next to mine, at work.

Zinging is a game we play with stretched rubber bands when Nurse Ratched (the boss) is away in a meeting somewhere. You hook a rubber band round the tip of your thumb and pull and let go. It zings away and stings the target. Lazslo is our champion zinger. His zings can really sting. At any given moment there’s a fifty-fifty chance you’ll hear someone screaming,”Lazslo, you m—er f—er, that hurt! I’ll get you for this!”

Sainte Mèrde! Why do I have ta lie? Dear reader, Joe Creasy’s past life, as depicted above, is simply not true. It’s a sort of an alternative beginning, very far from his real life story actually. That is, if there really is someone called Joe Creasy. Which is doubtful, given that I’m a consummate liar. There is a Batshaw Youth & Family Services but it’s in downtown Montreal, near René Lévesque and Atwater. The story I fed you was actually told to me by Jason Bourne after he got his memory back. There, see? I’ve come clean. Now you can just sit back and trust me to tell you what actually happened with Joe Creasy’s life.

Nothing. That’s exactly what happened. Joe Creasy’s father, Dan Creasy, an Irish catholic who had come to Canada as a fund-raiser for the IRA, had a lingerie store called Efs and Butts, at Guy and Sherbrooke. Joe worked in the panty and pantyhose tryout section for six months while he was looking for a job, after graduating in aeronautical engineering from L’Ecole Aeronautique de Montreal. A chance to do his masters at McGill came along just as his father promoted him to supervise the brassieres department. Now you’ll roll your eyes and sigh, ‘there he goes again’ but I swear it’s true. Joe can accurately size up a woman from a mile.

Which brings me back up to the first paragraph. You know, the one you accidentally skipped when you got up to get the popcorn. I was simply saying that Joe springs things on you when you least expect him to. Like the time when we were both in line, at the cafeteria cash counter, waiting to pay for our sandwiches and coffee. Suddenly Joe goes,” Give me a loonie.” Now Joe speaks very rapidly, so it was more like ‘gimmealoonie’.

Out here we call a dollar a ‘loonie’. Likewise a two dollar coin in Canada is a ‘toonie’. Americans call their dollar a smackeroony or just a smackeroo. At least their cartoon characters do. I’m not sure if they have a name for a two-dollar denomination south of the border.

Anyway, before I knew it I had handed over a loonie to Joe. He promptly invested it in a packet of gum, from which he magnanimously held out a stick. I expected Joe to pay me back the next day but it didn’t happen. A few more days passed, with Joe not making any mention of the loonie loan.

A week passed and I began to get antsy. Maybe he had misunderstood and thought he didn’t have to return it. After all, he’d said ‘give me’, not ‘lend me’. Or maybe since he’d given me a stick of gum from the packet, he assumed it would be ok to not return my loonie. And as the days rolled by I began to despair. Since it was only a loonie, an amount considered so small as to sound petty, I couldn’t bring myself to ask him for it back.

Then, exactly 6 months from that fateful day when I’d given him the loonie, Joe and I once again found ourselves at the cash, waiting in line to pay for our coffees. I was greatly relieved, sure that he’d offer to pay for my coffee, thus settling a long overdue loan. This time Pierrette, the girl at the cash counter, was really slung low. The cotton strip connecting the two halves of her halter top was stretched so thin that it was held together by just a string of single cotton molecules clinging to each other, praying that Max Planck had been right about strong nuclear force.

Joe was ahead of me in the line and while I stood there transfixed, my head hammered by this review of the quantum theory, Joe paid for his coffee and left. When I woke up I had my coffee in my hand and I was walking unsteadily back toward my department. I had let this opportunity to retrieve my loonie slip away.

A futher two weeks went by, with the prospect of ever seeing my loonie having receded into obscurity. I had all but given up when another occasion suddenly presented itself. Olga, from Accessories, who had just joined back from a rather long medical leave, was coming around to collect non-perishables and cash donations on behalf of Centraide for this year’s drive for Christmas gifts for needy children. Everyone was donating a loonie or a toonie and I planned to be right by Joe’s side. When he took out his wallet, I’d ask him for a loonie. That way the two opposing loans would cancel each other out.

Problem is, no one told me that Olga’s medical leave was for having breast implants. Long story short, while I was looking around the floor for my lower jaw, she jiggled around collecting loonies and toonies from the guys and was gone before I could get my breath back. In my trance-like state, I’d even taken out a twennie and given it to her. The only twennie I had. The same twennie that was supposed to last until payday, which was a light-year away (A ‘twennie’ is a $20 bill). Meanwhile Joe Creasy had paid a loonie, just like all the other guys. There’s a word for guys like me, starts with ‘sch’, sounds German and has one vowel and three consonants thereafter, ends with a ‘k’. Get familiar with it. You’ll need to use it, if you’re reading my writing.

Perhaps it’s some sort of a defense mechanism but these days, I have begun having these strangely life-like dreams and hallucinations. A frequent nightmare goes like this- I’m at a party with a hundred Joe look-alikes. They are all sloshed, weaving in and out as they point their stubby fingers at me and I’m cowering in a corner, flushed with embarrassment. They drag me into the middle of the dance floor, gyrate drunkenly around me and then toss a hundred loonies into the air and watch, cackling in delight, as I lunge awkwardly this way and that, trying to catch them. But the coins melt away as soon as I have them in my palms. The Joes clap their hands, stamp their feet and shake their tambourines, while they scream in chorus, “Petty guy! Petty guy!”.

And then it happened. I was at the cafeteria cash line-up with Joe ahead of me, when he turned around, hands outstretched, both palms upturned, piled high with loonies. There must be 100-200 dollars there, I thought. “Here’s your loonie back, with interest,” he said, smiling. I reached my hands out and grabbed both piles. They appeared sort of soft and each pile had a toonie on top. That’s when I came to and found myself in front of Pierrette, my hands outstretched and full. Um…not with loonies, definitely not loonies. And  the toonies on top, they were kinda standing out. They were not toonies either.

I was restrained, campus security was called in and as I was being led out, I thought I overheard one security guy telling the other, “Hey, this guy sure is loony”.

That’s when I woke up.

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