The Optimist

November 27, 1995

Sold Five-Fifty

Denis Borris

Ottawa, Ontario Canada

I'm in Toronto. Business trip. 3 days, Wednesday to Friday. Thursday afternoon is free, so I decide to go for a walk. Up Sheppard Avenue. As I hurry across an intersection (the sign says 'don't walk', so I run), I notice half way up the next block this old rusty 'balloon tire' bicycle, upside down on the sidewalk, on its seat and handlebars. You know, one of them old bikes with no gears, sheer leg power, and you brake by pedalling in reverse, and if that don't work, you stick your foot on top of the front tire, right there where the crossbar joins the front frame.

Bent over the bike is this kid, trying to slip the chain back on. As I get there, he's finally got the greasy chain in place and he's attempting to flip the clanky bike back on its wheels. I notice quite a few spokes missing, also the left pedal's flat rubber portion is missing.

I help him out. He says "thanks a lot". He's got a smear of black grease on his left cheek. Both index fingers and both thumbs are pitch black with yucky old grease. He cleans up the best he can with an old red kerchief full of white polka-dots, which he half-slips back in his right rear pocket.

He's 10 or 11, kinda skinny, kinda all nerves. Checkered bermudas that drop a good 4 inches below his kneecaps, beat-up Addidas runners with no socks, a drooping shapeless Toronto Blue Jays sweater cut off at the elbows: number 17.

A bunch of rebellious hair sticks out the top rear of his head, like an upside down comma. He's got oversize eyes, quite runny. In each corner is a good chunk of dried-up yellowish stuff, I think you call that mucus, and I get this urge to scrape it off with my right index finger.

He grabs the handlebars, right foot on right pedal, gets rolling by skip-pushing with his left foot, picks up momentum, swings his left leg over the seat, lands on the hard seat, grimaces, momentarily loses control, heads for a light post, jerks the other way, nearly falls, finally gets rolling okay, a loud 'clunk' each time the left pedal comes around and scrapes the left frame-pipe.

After some 50 'clunks', the chain slips off again. The kid appears to give up, walks alongside his bike for a few yards. About half-way down the next block, he stops, veers right, and stands the bike against an iron fence attached to a large building. He then enters that building. Other people are also entering. Curiosity takes over: I go in too.

Wow! I walk right into a police auction. Just unbelievable all the stuff being auctioned off: cameras, TV sets, radios, bicycles, stereos....the audience numbers some 150. The auctioneer is a jovial fat policeman with permanent sweat beads between nose and upper lip.

All around Fat Cop chairs are set up in circular rows. The kid is in the front row, elbows on knees, chin in hands. I see a radio go for 22 bucks, then a bicycle is rolled into the selling circle. Fat Cop yells "Okaaaay... whooza gonna start this off?" The kid says "five dollars and fifty cents."

I got five-fifty, who'll gimme ten...ten, I got ten, who'll gimme fifteen...and so on until the bike goes for fifty bucks. For the next hour or so, bikes come up now and then. Each time, the kid opens the bid with "five dollars and fifty cents." But the bikes keep going out anywhere from thirty to sixty bucks.

Somehow, I can't leave. Seems that everyone is gradually becoming aware of something. Fat Cop seems to lose most of his enthusiasm during bicycle bidding. You can feel an uncomfortable hush following the kid's bids. This is hard to explain, but you can sense that the audience kinda draws slowly together, you can see a few understanding glances being exchanged between strangers.

A 10 minute break is announced. Somebody wheels in one of them little portable stands: "hot dog + coke = a buck". The kid follows with his eyes, half gets up, decides to stay in his chair. A couple of minutes later, an elderly man steps up to the kid, gives him a dog and a coke. Quite a few in the audience see this and smile.

The auction resumes. Same story: the kid bids with no luck. More and more people are realizing what's going on. Again I'm feeling something strange. It's as if everybody is helplessly thinking the same thing... like, I feel closer to the guy on my left and the housewife on my right.

The auction is close to ending.There's only a radio and a beautiful red shiny racer left. The radio goes: 17 bucks. Fat Cop kinda yells "Okaaay folks, last sale, how much for this red racer?", then looks helplessly at the kid. Again, the kid says "five dollars and fifty cents". But you can tell he knows there's no chance. He kinda gets ready to leave. Fat Cop smiles sadly at him, and then continues "I got five-fifty, who'll gimme ten..."

And then a wonderful magic moment happens.

From the third row, behind Fat Cop, directly across from where I'm sitting, the elderly man that gave the kid the dog and coke stands up, waves his arms in a criss-cross pattern, gives the signal: right index across two lips. You can feel the quiet power of the transmission of the message: every face blanks in conspiracy. Complete silence. All eyes on Fat Cop.

Fat Cop quickly understands. And he grins widely at everyone as he performs an intentionally slow rotation pleading for bids, then stops seriously and faces the kid, swings his left arm in an awkward clockwise circular motion ending up with his left index pointed right at the kid, and yells in a thunderous rasp: "Sold! Five-fifty! To the boy in the bermudas and the Leafs sweater!" Seems to me his voice kinda chokes between "boy" and "bermudas".

Everyone is applauding. The kid turns over a rumpled greasy five dollar bill plus two quarters at the pay-up desk. Fat Cop walks over and ceremoniously hands over the bike. The grateful smile on the kid's face is something else. The applauding erupts again. You can feel many lumps forming in many throats.

Conversations erupt all over. It seems that everyone knows everyone.

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Denis Borris

Ottawa, Ontario Canada

I can't believe it: there isn't there. I'm at the Ottawa Public Library- Rideau Street Branch. Without too much trouble, I just got in the "general subject" module of the public-use-computer, entered "TH", hit the return key. Nothing on "there": "thesis" followed by "therapy".

This can't be...must be something wrong with the alpha search. I approach the information desk, patiently wait while the "busy" municipal employee self-importantly scrutinizes the library card of all library cards, finally files it, looks up and in a resigned voice: can I help you, sir?

I feel all guilty and inferior. Not only due to the resigned tone, but also to this guy's glasses perched in that awe-inspiring intellectual position half-way down the nose, plus secured with a yellow fat string going around the back of his neck.

I summon the few bravery cells I got left, politely explain what has just happened: would he double-check for me, please? He tries, same results: well, am I satisfied now?

My voice falters: well, is it possible that the computer made an error? Nothing here either, he announces triumphantly after examining a thick print-out: and don't I know that computers don't lie? I thank him and leave, resisting the urge to invite this guy to come have a look at a couple of computer reports I get at work.

All this leaves me in a mild state of shock. Nobody, but nobody, has written anything on there. There, that most important and versatile word. Well, right there and then I decided to try and remedy this therelict situation, to show there for what there is, and it is my fervent hope that what follows will help to position there somewhere in the hall of fame of the English language.

First and foremost (Mr. Fraser, my English Lit teacher in high school, was in love with this paragraph opener, so we French kids would use it widely, usually good for a pass mark) there is not some lonely inactive word stuck in some corner by itself. Au contraire (another one of Mr. Fraser's love). Very much like a theredevil, there flies all over the place. For instance: 1- There can be spread around: thereabouts
2- There can be all mixed in : thereamong
3- There can be way up there : thereabove
4- There can be there first : thereinbefore
5- There can be there later : thereinafter
6- There can be subtracted : therefrom
7- There can be multiplied : thereby
8- There can be opposed : thereagainst
9- There can be with us all : therewithal

Take motherhood. how could a mother talk to baby if there didn't exist? When baby is sad: there, there....poor baby. When baby is first successful on the potty: THERE!

And my wife. How could she end with emphasis a sermon-on-the-kitchen-mount directed at me? You wanna know why I'm mad at you...I'll tell you why I'm mad at didn't take the garbage out Tuesday never wore that shirt I gave you last always sneak looks at that divorced blonde next always leave your cup of coffee half-full in the basement...THERE!

Let's not forget the male country-and-western singer. That one eternally in trouble with his love-life. How could this poor soul sort through his feelings if there wasn't there to kick off his sad wailings:
1- Statement of departure: THERE she goes...walking away...
or: There goes my baby (bay-pause 2 seconds-bay) with someone new...
She sure looks happy (haa-pause 2 seconds-pay) I sure am blue...
2- Statement of after-effects: THERE's a my beerrr...
or: THERE's nothing left for me to do...
Bur cry-i-i-i-ing over you...

There also leads the way in many other areas. For instance, take well-known sayings. Without there to play follow-the-leader, how could we possibly say:
1- There you go!
2- There is a difference!
3- There's more than first meets the eye.
4- There's light at the end of the tunnel.
5- There's a fly in the ointment.

No, there does not insist on always leading, on always being in first place. Certainly not. There is often considerate and humble:
Second place: Here, there and everywhere.
Third place : Right in there...for strike 3!
Fifth place : Behind every successful man there is a surprised mother-in-law.
Tenth place : And a quack quack here, and a quack quack there...

Take me. Who went to a completely French separate school from grades 1 to 8. Can you imagine how grateful I am to there? There added flexibility and contour to my tongue. How's that, you ask. Well, it's the beginning: the "TH"...still an inevitable "D" for me.

No, no, Denis, it's not dare, it's THere, TH, THere: hold your tongue against the inside of your upper lip, now gently bring up your bottom teeth until they touch the front bottom of your let "TH" all come out as you bring your tongue down such that the sound emerges from in between your upper lip and your tongue...THERE: that's better.

Makes me nervous. What if after all that deep concentration, I forget what I wanted to say next?

Well, all good theres must come to an end. My problem: how do I wrap up in a manner that does justice to the literatical savoir-faire of what you've read so far, plus to do so with a touch of unexpectedness that critics expect to be present in a conclusion. Then it came to me: evasive goals.

Yes, evasive goals.

For as far back as I can remember, I always wanted to get, if I could only get there, I'd be there. But every time I got there, there wasn't there. But now that I'm getting up in age, therefore saturated with wisdom, it's all clear to me now: how fortunate I am that there wasn't there when I got there, because if there had been there when I got there, then I'd now be there, therefore not here...THERE YOU GO!

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Denis Borris

Ottawa, Ontario Canada

A friend steps in when the rest of the world steps out.
A friend will claim you at the lost and found department.
A friend is a friend in spite of, not because of.


Some days I'm cold
Feel a deep hole
All through my soul

On such dark dates
Heavy lead weights
Slip by my gates

Fill up with fears
Hold back my tears
While no one hears

My friend steps in
And lifts my chin
Tells me I'll win

Then lends an ear
And hugs me near
Squashing my fear

Thank you my friend
You made my end
A start again

Denis Borris

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Created: Friday, November 24, 1995 - 11:14:27 AM href="">'liz. miller for CyberEd
Last Updated: Friday, November 24, 1995 - 11:14:33 AM