waiting for a cab

Yesterday I made a mistake. It was my seventh wedding anniversary, which has nothing to with my mistake, and vice versa. My mistake had to do with a cab.

Every so often, when I'm tired or stressed or depressed, I lose the ability to call a cab properly. Cab-calling is a crucial part of my survival skillset; I have no car, no bicycle, and since my surgery I cannot rely on my legs to take me more than five blocks (this is getting better, in case you're wondering). Plus I am constantly running slightly behind, and on those occasions when running behind merges into gross tardiness, I can always blame the taxi company. This helps at meetings.

Yesterday I stopped off at the downtown library to find an appropriate movie to celebrate being hitched for seven years (I chose Psycho). After fifteen minutes of flipping through DVDs, I knew that I wasn't going to be able to walk home. Standing produces a stealthy strain on my back and legs, one that doesn't seem so bad until suddenly, my left leg goes nerveless and my entire body wants to curl up and nap.

Even though a serviceable bus stop sat waiting only a half block away, the part of my brain capable of entertaining options and choosing the most efficient had shut down. The day, the coming month, the rest of 2008 all rose up in my mind and started to swarm, gnatlike and persistent, around my brain. Lift and settle, settle and lift, cling to sweat and hunker down in the salt. I decided to call a cab from the payphones in the library lobby.

I won't tell you about the horror of discovering that public phones had increased their toll from twenty-five to fifty cents. I know, it could be worse - it could be Europe, where even a local call gnaws at your small change until your pocket is empty and the conversation is cut off in mid-thought. North America was once the land of plenty; now it holds the distinction of being the land where at least you're not nickel-and-dimed at every turn, unless you have a cell phone plan.

The downtown Public Library sits at the corner of Lorne Avenue and 12th Street. Addled by fatigue, I asked for the cab to come to the exit on 12th Avenue. Before the dispatcher could point out that 12th Avenue did not exist, I thanked her and hung up. Polite, me.

This is not the first time I've given a non-existent location for a cab. Some years ago I called for a cab to show up at the corner of 25th and Parliament, which caused the dispatcher to pause and say, "Are you sure"? He only asked because 25th and Parliament ran parallel to each other, and only in the most abstruse realms of geometry could I expect to catch a taxi. After a few minutes of waiting and looking at the street signs I realized my error, but instead of calling back, I decided to walk halfway down the block and wait there. My reasoning being that, since 25th and Parliament lay one block apart, perhaps the driver would decide to split the difference. To this day I can't remember why I didn't phone the dispatcher back. It may have had something to do with embarrassment.

It took me nearly half an hour of waiting at the Lorne Street entrance to realize that I had tried to conjure a cab to a phantom location. As I waited my brain started to fall into a hypnagogic haze. The sky crowded with clouds and dropped low, as if relaxing muscles. The green of the trees took on an almost Day-Glo vividness and the shadows underneath seemed to soak up surrounding light. The buildings along 12th separated from the trees so that they occupied two overlaying celluloid strips. Then the ugly people showed up.

I should clarify that the ugly people were not part of any hallucination. Downtown during the day is a healthy mix of folks - civil servants, minimum-wage mall children, insurance workers, kids playing hooky, a contingent of homeless and day-release types sweeping back and forth around the streets - but when five o' clock strikes, every gainfully employed person deserts the downtown for the safety of the suburbs or their grey-carpeted loft-living downtown condos, and only the homeless and the deranged are left, slowly circling in the wake of the daily exodus. That's when you see how strange and ugly humans can be.

They started crossing in front of my eyes, on the way to the bus stop or nowhere at all, coughing, stumbing, all of them seemingly unable to walk correctly. Which put me in their company. A man who looked like an egg on stilts clopped past, talking quietly to himself: You'll see, you'll see what happens, when I take a bath. Before I could grab a clearer notion of what would happen when he took that bath, I was distracted by a guy who might have been a teenager, or a guy in his thirties with a talent for youth fashion. He wore a brand-new denim baseball cap on his head - so brand-new, in fact, that the giant plastic tab was still affixed the top of the cap. It fluttered and spun in the breeze as he passed.

More of them came and went: lopsided faces, glassy eyes, pants that ended an inch above the ankles, people that seem to have been selected from the scrap bins of the last thirty years and pulled together with string. The curious thing about such a crowd is that the well-fed and sane, suddenly a minority, start to lose their lustre. Men in suits and jackets begin to look, at best, like mental patients on their way to a funeral; at worst, they look like Mormons getting set to assault passersby with crackpot theology. Everyone gets a strained look at the corner of their eyes, as if boredom were shading into twitchy paranoia. People begin to look like impostors, like spies, eyes swiveling in the search for someone who might call them out.

I have absolutely no conclusion for this entry. But I'm sure you'll all be happy to know that I walked to the bus stop, took the #10 home and spent an evening cooking, relaxing and watching Psycho in celebration of my seventh anniversary. Schmutzie fell asleep on the couch. I also brought home an Icelandic comedy, which we did not watch.