Ever see someone you once knew on the news? The hair on your head stands up. You drop what you’re doing and turn up the volume. But what the TV guy says doesn’t make sense. It’s like he’s talking about this person who has the face of the person you knew, but is also another person.
If I hadn’t looked up from the soup I was heating, I’d never have known Boots was on the news. The guy they were talking about was Robert Price, but the face was definitely Bob the Boot.
Boots is what we called him and the first thing you want to know about Boots is that he was a gimp. He had this fake leg he’d strap on with leather belts and buckles. He’d actually walk with this thing, even drive. But driving wasn’t so hard once he got into his car, because his gimp was on the left. He worked the pedals, no problem.
So let me tell you how I remember it.
We were kids, but at the age when you don’t know you’re a kid. When you get pissed if someone calls you a kid. About thirteen, fourteen, I’d say. Boots lived on Birnam near Ogilvy, in a ground floor. We lived around the corner, right on Ogilvy, me my parents and brother, also my grandmother. I’d seen Boots around. Who could miss him? With that big fucking Buick and the way he’d drag and push that fake leg, swing it wide, bend and kind of wrestle it into the car.
It’s summer, hot. My little brother John and me are watching Boots, we don’t know his name yet, doing this whole getting into the car routine I just told you about. He’s finally in and settles down and puts his key in the ignition. Then he punches the steering wheel and says fuck. Hearing a grownup say fuck is a big deal, especially around our neighbourhood, where it’s mostly Greeks and Italians and whatnot.
“Hey,” he says to us. “Do me a favour.”
So we go over and he says go get that bag for a buck. He points and we look over and there’s a leather bag by the door that he must have forgot. So I do that, my brother standing watching while I get the bag and hand it to Boots through his window. Boots takes out his wallet from his back pocket and it’s full of bills. He takes out a two, hands it over and says, “Thanks, see-ya!” Then he peels away.
My brother John looks at me. Two bucks just for that? he says. Buy me something.
That’s the first time. After that, Boots is always calling us over. Run and mail this letter. Lug the garbage can to the street. Get some bread or milk or whatnot from Costa’s on Ogilvy. And always a buck or two at the end, more money than the bread or milk cost.
John tags along and gets his share and I don’t care. I like my kid brother and I’m showing him the ropes, ‘cause who’s going to do it, my dad? My dad has to take me to the bank just to open an account. No speeka da inglez.
When I think of it, I haven’t seen John in maybe twenty years. He’s married now and has kids. Works for a bank somewhere out west. People grow apart, even brothers. You hear about it all the time.
# # #
My parents like it that we’re helping Boots, especially when they hear he’s a gimp. But they don’t like that we’re taking money. My father says give it back, so right away John my brother starts crying. Like every fight in my family, this one ends with my mother making spanakopita. She tells us to bring it over to the kakomiri, which means poor unlucky bastard in Greek.
Next thing, we’re ringing the doorbell and Boots is yelling come in. There he is spread out on the couch, in boxers. His stump sticking out a mile and his other leg on the floor. I says about my mother and he says, Ah, Greeks bearing gifts or some shit like that. He tells us to put the spanakopita in the kitchen and come sit with him.
I go to the kitchen and John is right on my tail, he’s so freaked with the stump and whatnot. Kitchen is a fucking disaster. Dirty dishes and pots piled up to the ceiling, open cans of mouldy sauce, empty cereal boxes, bowls of milk turning to cheese. I don’t have to paint a picture, right?
We go back to the living room and by this time Boots has pants on but the fake leg is still on the floor. Turns out Boots is a real interesting guy. He shows us his CB radio, which, personally, I’d never seen one before. Lets me and John talk on it. Plus he has this stamp collection with Nazi stamps of Hitler, plus there’s a dartboard on the wall and darts with actual feathers. He works at CFCF on Ogilvy, working some technical shit on TV shows. He tells us to call him Bob the Boot, like his friends call him.
He asks about us but there’s nothing to say.
Greeks, he says. The only Greeks I know are dishwashers, he says. You want to wash dishes? There’s money in it.
Oh, yeah? How much, I says.
So then he says he’ll give us ten dollars each to clean up his kitchen. Dishes, glasses, pots and pans, the works. That’s real fucking money, so we say we’ll do it.
John and I get started right away. Like anything bad, the hardest part is getting started. Once you get your hands dirty, the rest is easy. It’s the same with other stuff, too. Like the first time you lie or steal, you think God’s gonna come from the sky and smite you or something. But then it’s easy. Nobody smites you and if you can get away with it, what the hell, right? It’s always been my philosophy in life.
Here’s another thing I’ve learned. Doing the bad stuff gets easier and easier, like I said. But the good stuff gets harder and harder. What a fucking joke.
# # #
Going home after that first time, John’s really into it. And it’s not just the money. He can’t believe all the stuff Boots has, and how smart Boots is, and that he does TV shows. John’s a quiet kid, so I let him jump around and hoot for a while. I’ve never seen him so excited. All he wants to talk about is Boots. He’ll learn, I says to myself.
After that, we start going over more often. Saturday afternoons, Boots has the motor running and we just hop in, me in the front. We ride to Jean Talon market, and that’s the old Jean Talon market, where you could drive right by the farmer stalls. Boots points at something and tells us to get it. Strawberries, get me a basket. Asparagus, get me a bunch. So John hops out with a buck or two and gets what Boots pointed at. The whole shopping is like that. And he always says keep the change. Which I can tell you really adds up.
The other kids in the neighbourhood are jealous. They’re seeing us buying May Wests and Cokes all the time, big bags of chips everyone can share. We’re making good coin. They want a piece of Boots too. Except Boots doesn’t let. He says hi to them, asks their names and all. But when it’s time for business, it’s just me and John.
By this time it’s end of the summer. Almost time to go back to school, which is really bumming me out. Boots is saying stuff like, our little arrangement will soon come to an end. I says what for, but he says all good things must end.
The last Saturday before school, I go over with John like usual, but Boots isn’t in his car. We wait but he still doesn’t show, so we ring his bell and go in. The door is always unlocked. He’s on his couch, leg off, sitting. Says he’s feeling down. Had a bad night or something. So we sit with him, throw a few darts.
Then Boots has this idea. Says he’ll give me money to take the 92 bus on Jean-Talon, pick up a few things at the market and be back in an hour. John’ll keep him company.
I don’t know, I says. Maybe John should come to help carry stuff. But Boots already has an answer. It’s only a few things. And besides, John wanted to learn how to use the CB radio. Here’s his chance.
OK, I says. I’ll be back soon. See ya, says John.
I run to Jean Talon and lucky for me there’s a 92 coming, so I get to the market and buy Boots’s stuff real quick. But I also have to go into the butcher’s for some pork chops. So that takes time, ‘cause there’s a bunch of old ladies waiting ahead of me. Then I cross Jean Talon to get the 92 going the other way, back to Park Ex.
So I’m walking down Birnam from Jean Talon and who sees me from some balcony but my mother. My fault for taking Birnam. She’s having coffee on the balcony with her friend Sophro, who lives in an upstairs. So my mother looks down at me carrying Boots’s bags and says where’s your brother? I don’t know, I says. Yes you do, she says. Whose groceries are those? They’re the kakomiri’s I says, trying to butter her up. Is your brother with him? she says. Now she’s giving me a look that will peel paint. Her face is white and wild and she’s trying hard to not let Sophro see. It’s alright, I says. I’ll go get him.
I get to Boots’s place and like I expected, it’s all hunky dory. Boots has the Expos on and they’re sitting on the couch, watching. Boots gives me five bucks, and five for John, even though John did nothing.
On the way home, I ask John what happened while I was gone. Nothing, says John. You sure? I says. All I can think about is my mother and how I’m gonna catch it at home. It’s always the older one that pays, right?
I don’t know, you look different, I says to John. Like a pussy.
Fuck you, says John.
So I grab his collar and throw him on the sidewalk and start beating the crap out of him. I’m sitting on him and whacking his face back and forth, saying what happened, what happened. Tell me what happened you little shit. Don’t fucking lie to me, don’t you dare lie to me.