We landed at YVR and I waited with Greg to get his suitcase and we followed signs to the Skytrain. Two men in uniform were blue dots in the distance of the clean, vast baggage claim area, and they grew larger as we got closer. Before getting to an escalator we were stopped by the two customs officers and asked for our passports. We each had our own officer to question us.

“Where you coming from?”

Interrogation had a deafening effect on me. I only heard the questions darting at me, and naturally blocked out the rest. I could see people passing in the periphery but they made no sound. My focus was on the officer’s bald head, his bold black, and bushy eyebrows. My questioner and I were in another world entirely.

“New York,” I answered.

“And what are you doing in Canada?”

“Just to visit. Celebrating my friend’s birthday.”

“Do you know anyone in here in Vancouver?”


“And what do you do in New York?”

“I work in a doctor’s office.”

Shaking his shaved head, unsatisfied. “And what do you do in the doctor’s office?”

I avoided eye contact, looking into unspecified corners. I’m horrible at telling the truth properly. “I manage supplies.”

He looked up from my passport, “You look pretty tired.”

“I couldn’t sleep on the plane,” I said. “I never can.”

He was looking down and there was a long pause. “I hope you get some rest.” He closed my passport and handed it back to me. “Enjoy your stay,” he said. Greg finished first and was already ahead of me.

We had to ask questions to make sure we were going the correct way. Vancouver wasn’t a big city, so there wasn’t much to see outside the windows of the train before we tunneled underground and reached our stop.

Granville Street was illuminated by glowing store signs and the occasional Metro sign. Sparse rain jackets and ponchos and umbrellas seemed to float down the sidewalks, all trying to keep their wearers dry under the heavy mist. A fellow with a German accent directed us towards our hostel, and we took a ‘long walk’ down Granville. The canvas of Greg’s Chucks slowly darkened from being soaked with rain water. He complained about the trek the entire way, but I was used to it from other times we traveled, thinking back on a day trip to Munich from Frankfurt, in which we walked much of the city. We passed many young people bivouacked into old storefronts. They slept with looks of rigor mortis, and I envied them because I was so drowsy and tired, cracking my eyes to keep out the rain falling. Our guide eventually parted from us and went down Robson Street where more bars and restaurants were still open. I could see clusters of people and miniature clouds of cigarette smoke from the intersection.

We arrived at the hostel, greeted by the noise and music from the bar that was practically attached to the check-in desk. We got our room keys, went up a flight of stairs, entered our room, and intruded on a couple on a top bunk, on holiday. They were probably about to have quiet foreplay, then sex. We talked a bit about where we were all from before Greg and I left in search of food.

“You got me out here in Vancouver!” Greg said. “Who would have thought we’d be here.”

“It was your choice, remember?”

“I wanted to go somewhere different. Everyone we know takes trips to the Caribbean, or Europe. Who do we know that has been to Vancouver, or anywhere this far north, and west?”

I shrugged. “No one I can think of.”

He scratched at his beard, and then moved down to the curled hair at his chin, trying to straighten it with his fingers. He nodded. “You want to get into something tonight?

“This DJ is playing pop, grunge, metal, and hip hop all in the same set.” I thought about leaving. We couldn’t spend our first night there.  “I guess? What do you want to do?”

“You tell me.”

“It’s your 30th birthday.”

“I’m getting old.”

“Don’t look at it that way.”

The server came up, “another round for you?” using her forefinger to move her hair out of her eye.

“What bars do you recommend to go to around here?” Greg asked.

She put her hands on her hips and her eyes went to the ceiling in thought. Her long blonde hair fell off her shoulders and was down her back. “A lot of people like The Factory. They have some good beers on tap.”

“Where do you like to go?” Greg asked.

She spoke smoothly, and slowly, and her Australian drawl added to her affable demeanor. “After work we all like to go to Cinema sometimes. I like it. The staff all likes it. It’s pretty relaxed and the music is good.” She smiled. “I don’t know what kind of atmosphere you guys like.”

“We’re pretty open,” I said.

“Try it out. See if you like it.”

We settled the bill and went down the street, amazed at the sight of more people just lounging or sleeping or conferencing near building entryways. They seemed to be having the deepest of philosophical discussions, some with their dogs lying down with them.

Cinema Public House was dim, with black and red plump leather seating in the booths and some high chair seating near the bar. A foosball table and billiard table to the right, we didn’t have to inch our way through people to move about. The DJ played hip hop and some electronic music mixed in, seeming to be the ventriloquist to a guy dancing nonstop near the booth, lipping words to all the songs, occasionally closing his eyes, lost in rhythm, a channel to his own solitude, ignoring all others.

Greg picked a round table with high chairs near the bar. I tried Irish and Canadian whiskies and he sat hunched over and sipped and finished each tumbler I brought with modesty, and said nothing when each was empty.

He might not have said more than two sentences if it weren’t for the arrival of a long-haired brunette with bangs that hung over her forehead. She introduced herself as Geli and we introduced ourselves. She jettisoned out of the seat to the bar and returned before Greg and I could make any expressions toward one another.

“Where are you guys from?”

Is it that obvious that we aren’t from here? I thought to myself.

“The U.S.,” Greg said.

Her cheeks rounded like two red school bells and her face looked even more doll-like. “Cool, what part?” she said with the straw in her mouth, bobbing her head to the music.

“We both live and work in New York.”

“I’ve always wanted to go there,” she said. “How long was the flight?”

“About nine total hours with the connecting flight at LAX,” I said.

“That’s a lot of traveling.”

“It is.”

She looked at Greg. His eyes were like two smooth stones in a garden, evenly set in his face and there were no lines showing lack of sleep. She then turned to me and squinted. “You actually look tired.”

“I have trouble sleeping on planes.”

She suddenly motioned with her hands, as if presenting a vaudeville act, “Oh, this is my friend Lori.” Lori sipped her drink and flicked the short blond hair out of her eye. She bashfully shook each of our hands, her mouth two inked crescent moons of cordiality—her white teeth peering through black lipstick. “And this is her friend Courtney,” who danced into my view from the right, with blond-hair, toasted roots to show it wasn’t natural. She had a sculpted lantern jaw that made her look like a model, strong, yet feminine. She had dark lipstick as well. I was nearest to her and she shook my hand first, firmly with customary eye contact and an obligatory smile, barely curving the corners of her mouth. The entire transaction was brief. I thought about how gorgeous she was, and how quickly her eyes left mine.

“Are you from here?” I asked her.

“No, I’m actually visiting Lori. I’m from Ottawa, and so is she. She recently moved here and she’s been asking me to come visit her. So, here I am.”

Lori’s eyes occasionally fluttered and then closed as slow as car garage doors close.

“She works a lot and doesn’t have much time to go out,” Geli said.

“Yea, she still comes out though, and gets like this,” Courtney said.

“What are you guys doing tomorrow night?” Geli asked.

“We don’t have anything specific in mind,” I said.

“You should come out to this party we’re going to. They’re gonna have this good, local DJ there we like.”

Greg looked at me, glad to have an option on something to do already. “Sounds good,” he said.

I looked at him and I nodded in agreement. I could only think of Courtney and the few words of conversation and her casual look while answering my question, no emotion, no contortion, only lipping to the music, which seemed absent while I talked to her. I stenciled the image of her face into my brain and the tonal strength of her voice into my auditory memory. When I closed my eyes to blink I saw her, and with each blink I felt I could maybe fall asleep like Lori.

We were still talking when the music got lower and the bartenders closed up. The manager appeared and shepherded the crowd out into the cold rain. It seemed if the rain ever stopped it would mean something was wrong, or off, but it would go unnoticed. The five of us found shelter under an old movie theater entrance and out of Geli’s purse came an already-rolled joint. Lori stood smoking a cigarette, still with eyes were barely open. She gave Courtney a cigarette and lit it for her, but the lighter only sparked by the time it got to Geli, and she got a light from a passerby. I didn’t even pay attention to the fact that Courtney was smoking a cigarette. I was relieved she didn’t have a pack of her own. The joint made its way to her and she shook her head but she took it anyway and passed it to me. I drew on it, held it in, and let the smoke flow out, yawning a little. I watched Courtney behind the thick smoke, forming a cloudy lens like a dirty submarine porthole.  The smoke dissipated slowly. The way the cigarette rested, almost falling from her index and middle finger, so delicate, was the only time I had ever been attracted to a woman smoking. I drew a second time, pleura walls turning to embers before exhaling, and the naturally sticky, funky smell of burning dirt and earth blew away in a faint breeze. The lenses of my eyes focused. I could see her clearly again and she seemed as real as ever. I thought about what Greg said at the first bar and how he was still shocked we made this trip. The air was still and moist and any one of us could see his or her breath if they weren’t smoking. We each took hits, burning our souls on inhales, and exhaling the burnt portions to search for somewhere to live for the night, returning to our bodies before re-awakening us for new days.

Down Granville Street, joint eventually reduced to roach (which I’d grown to refuse to smoke), we ventured into a pizza shop as barren as some of the side streets we’d passed. There were only two tables and I sunk down into a seat against the wall, meant for more than one, hoping Courtney would sit down beside me. The alcohol got to me, slightly blurry and slowed, like a lethargic cameraman trying to catch up to the actors in the frame. But I wasn’t drunk.  Greg ordered for the both of us, touching the glass in front of the pizza pies. I thought about her hands, how thick her fingers were, rather soft, but firm, remembering her handshake.

“What do you all do?” I asked.

Courtney came and sat next to me at one of the tables. I didn’t push myself up and didn’t look over to her. She sat close to me as if we had arrived to Cinema together, walked to the pizza shop together, and we would leave together, parting from the group when the night was over.

“I’m visiting Lori, as I said when we were at Cinema,” Courtney said. “Lori works at a barbershop. She’s a hairdresser.”

I stood up and got my pizza that Greg ordered for me, and I stood eating next to him, partly afraid to go sit back down next to Courtney, yet still playing with infatuation, and feigning interest.

“I like her hairstyle,” I said.

“Yea? You should come by and get a cut one day,” Lori said to me.

Courtney giggled to herself, looking at my shaved head.

“I don’t need to go to a barber to do this,” I said. “I do it.”

Under her breath, “Well, he could get a hot shave,” Courtney said.

“What did you say?” I asked.

She was still smirking and I was smiling. “Nothing,” she said.

“I heard you already. I just want you to repeat what you said.”

At this point I was smiling, and it felt like we were in one another’s minds, playing with smirks. She wouldn’t repeat what she said. I finished my pizza. Geli finished her pizza. The owner smiled the kind of smile he gave while watching people on many late nights. We finished our pizzas the owner unlocked the door, and we were again let out into a slow, constant drizzle. We waited for the light to change and crossed the street. I was curious the entire night how Courtney and I would part ways when the time came.

“We should exchange numbers so we can meet up tomorrow night,” Geli said. She and Greg pulled out their cell phones. Courtney and I naturally pulled our phones out as well. She gave her number to Greg first and then she and I exchanged numbers. They hugged, while Lori just waved goodbye and trudged seemingly uphill to cross the street. Courtney and I were face-to-face at a street corner, just exchanged numbers, with the possibility that we may never see one another again. I noticed the rain had slowed down. I thought that it might have stopped. She leaned in to hug me, and I gave her my neck and torso for her to hug, but kept my hands in my pockets, smirking because she never told me what she said when we were in the pizza shop. She pulled away, in awe, mouth open, realizing I wasn’t returning the hug.

“It’s okay,” she said snickering. “You can make it up tomorrow night.”

She held her stare, and the slight smile, almost like the Joker, backing away coolly. She pulled her hood over her head, eventually turning and jogging to catch up with Lori and Geli. The rain tired and actually stopped. I knew it would come back. Or, would it? And she didn’t have to meet up with us the next night, I thought. Rare, chilling wind crawled up the curves of my back. We have to meet up with them tomorrow night, no matter what. Infatuation had flushed me and washed over me, wherever the rain missed so many of its chances that night. Adventure, and purpose, ideas of a vacation in this green, rainy, cold city were all drowned out now and I was left wondering how I would sleep that night, thinking of her.

Greg stared at me, already walking backwards, cement-shoed. I was still watching them walk away. “Well, I guess we know where we’re going tomorrow night,” he said. He seemed to already distance himself from the event once it was over, yet while the event took place he had a way of blending into the social environment of it: young people traveling and meeting at random. He rarely let anyone know what he was thinking, usually the inquirer, only revealing what was on the surface. He was the conversation starter. He was the first to exchange phone numbers. People wanted to talk to him, yet I didn’t know if he was interested in anyone from the group.

“Did you text her already?” he asked me. The question was muffled, perhaps by my wonder, like someone turned the volume down.  We didn’t say much to one another during the walk back to the hostel, but I thought of Courtney the entire way back. The rain inevitably began again, slicing in waves of mist across the streets and anyone walking them. Lying in bed that night, my eyes could not close and felt like they would sink into my head.

I held my nose and closed my mouth and blew to open my ears, and my eyes followed. The captain announced we were beginning our descent into JFK. After we hit the tarmac I checked my phone conversations to see if Courtney sent me a message.