An Outing in 1965
We drive by Foo's Ho Ho. I loved coming to Vancouver's Chinatown.We didn’t have a ‘pot to piss in’ Dad claimed. As a child, he had a porcelain pot under the bed. I was glad we didn’t have a pot to piss in, literally. Metaphorically, I knew it meant we were poor.
I saw the orange sign for the West Hotel. Mom had said, “You better get down to the hotel before he pisses away all his pay.” Pissing metaphors played a large part in my growing up years. Like, ‘Mom’s pissed’. Not in a mad way but in a drunk way. Dad and I didn’t do a lot of things together. I was sixteen and happy when he said, “OK kid, let’s go roll Uncle.”
M<y Swedish Uncle worked in camp. Every two weeks he flew into Vancouver and stayed at the West. It was a place to sleep, drink and find hookers in 1965.
Dad slammed the car door. We walked across the lot. The back door was heavy, and clanged shut. Inside was dark and the air was heavy and musty.A dim red exit sign flickered at the end of a hallway. We were stealthy and quiet. No need for that really but it was part of the adventure. Knowing my Dad; he may have been banned from the Hotel.
Dad opened the metal door under the exit sign and went to the lobby. We slid into the small coffin-like elevator. I held my breath land was relieved when Dad punched four with one of his short, stubby fingers. Dad tapped the brim of his black fedora and announced, “Here we go.”
The elevator hissed and rattled. I closed my eyes praying for a quick ride. I took a breath to calm down. Focus, I thought. I asked Dad, “How are we going to do this exactly?”
“I told ya,” he said, “you distract him and I’ll check out the room lookin’ for the wad.”
I knew in ‘Dad speak’, a wad was not gum, it was a roll of money. I had worked the carnivals with him from an early age. As instructed, I walked around the fair with a big plush teddy bear in my arms. At five, I knew that a shill was Dad’s partner in crime to entice people to play games.
The doors squeaked open. We got out on the fourth floor a few heart stopping seconds after we got in. We stopped at room four-zero-six and knocked. No response, so Dad picked the lock. In a second we were in. I saw that we were not going to have to play the game of distract and snatch. Uncle lay on a metal frame bed in the centre of the room. He looked like a giant Roman king wrapped in a sheet that ran across his chest and twisted through his legs. No shirt, but thank goodness; he wore khaki pants. The fly was open. Mounds of white flesh poked out from under the sheet in places I did not want to imagine existed. He was bloated, breathing like a fallen bull moose. I walked over, noticing the smell of whisky. Dad proclaimed, `Drunk`.
I would never dare tell Dad he was stating the obvious but I thought it. Dad viewed the bulk on the bed and said, “OK, I'll lift and roll. You get your hands in his pockets. Get the wad.” I was nervous as I started my pat down. I discovered he had pissed himself, not a metaphor for anything, as he really had peed. I patted, probed and wiggled my fingers in and out of soggy pockets. I found the wad stuffed under his butt in the back pocket. Dad dropped the body at that time and smashed my fingers under the weight. I was trapped in Uncle`s deep, wet pocket.
Dad put his shoulder into the lift and dredged the old man off the bed, up into the air. I felt my hands circle a thick damp wad. I pulled my hand out as the beluga bounced back onto the bed. I handed Dad the money and walked over to the pedestal sink in the corner of the room. The pipes rumbled and sputtered but warm water came out. I washed Uncle`s pee off my hands with some rancid soap glued to the edge of the sink. I held my hands over the radiator in the room but it was not throwing off any heat. I dried my hands on my jeans. I had paid four dollars for them a few days earlier at the Army and Navy.
Dad snapped the elastic off the roll of money and counted the wet bills, laying them in a row on the surprisingly pretty green bedspread covered in lilac flowers. Uncle huffed and started to roll. Dad used one of his hands like a tent peg and held him up, using the other hand to scoop the money off the bed. He told me there was over two hundred and `lets skedaddle’. We left just as the fire alarm went off in the old hotel. The halls were filling up with old men and young women I can only assume were working girls by the miniskirts and net stockings. The old men were loggers that was clear by the brown pants, suspenders and plaid shirts. A lot of hippies dressed that way too but these guys were not hip in any way at all.
We ran for the back stairs. We knew we looked out of place. Dad was a small man barely five foot four in a fedora and a black suit. I was a five foot tall, one hundred pound girl with long blond hair. We went down four flights as fast as Dad could go but he had always had heart problems. At sixty he got out of breath real fast. I held his elbow the last two flights guiding him down. As we hit the lobby the lights went out and the late afternoon light came in through the two big streaky front windows. I could see hotel patrons gathering on the street. In the bright light of the sun, most of them looked like they didn’t know which way to go or where to look.
Dad and I ran down the stairs to the dark hallway. As the flickering exit light was now off, I ran my hands over the wall to the back door, afraid I would touch something in the dark. But then we pushed out into the fresh air and blue skies. I felt like I needed a shower to wash away the smoke and the musty odour that followed us up to the fourth floor and back. We jumped into the Austin, Dad slammed his door. He flashed a grin at me and threw the money on my lap, yelling at me to count it as we drove away. I shuffled through the damp bills as fast as I could, “Two hundred and five dollars,” I shouted.
Dad said, “Nice work kid, keep five bucks” and I did. I took the bus to Chinatown the next day past the West Hotel and got off at the Army and Navy Department Store and bought myself a pink purse to match a pair of pink sling-backs. Life was good.