‘Serbesa & Poutine’ by Vincent Ternida15 min read

5 January, 2018 0 comment

April 12, 2006

Illustration by Stephanie Quesada

The hot beef gravy seared the cheese curds as they seeped in with the russet fries. Maya, my sister, poured me a glass of craft lager. The beer was a deep gold, compared to the San Miguel pilsner I had in the past, this was more comparable to Red Horse. I hated Red Horse myself but everyone back home would drink it to get wasted.

“What is this again?”
“Poutine.”

This was the first time I had ever eaten a poutine. I mixed fries with gravy in the past, but gravy and cheese, it was a whole new sorcery. I was like a baked potato but instead of the hot potato, you got the Russet cut into wedges and then deep fried. The French knew how to eat.

My sister’s husband Ed joined us, he was about six-three and looked a bit like Colin Firth.

“Hi mahal,” Maya said.

“How you liking Vancouver, Harry?” asked Ed.

“Lots of trees,” I said.

They stifled their laughter a bit and we picked on the poutine. The gravy melted in my mouth along with the curds and fries. The green onion gave a smooth textured touch that went along with the lager. It was a little heavy for me I gotta admit. But hey, free beer was free beer.

April 12, 2011

Tonyboy inhaled the poutine that came along with the KFC chicken in one fell swoop. I watched him devour the meal as I nursed a tall dark roast I picked up from a Starbucks. Work sent me to Burnaby at the Metrotown branch to improve their appliances sales. Honestly, it was the Vancouver branch spying on the Burnaby branch using me.

Tonyboy was the department store vagrant who never exactly stole anything but never bought anything either. Loss prevention called him a distraction– he did laps around the store watching sports from the electronics section and trying on clothes in men’s wear. I took an interest in him because it was almost inconceivable with the amount of support the Filipino community had with each other that it was possible for somebody to become homeless. In my stay in Vancouver, I met two homeless Filipinos, both of them were in the Metrotown area.

Salamat, pare,” Tonyboy said. He was around five-one, stocky, and had greasy long hair. He wiped the chicken juice from his mouth with his sleeve and I handed him a napkin. He took it and proceeded to wipe his mouth again.

***

I lay in bed after vigorous lovemaking with Angie staring at the ceiling of my Strathcona one bedroom loft. A couple of free lunches would probably not get Tonyboy to talk about his past right away. I was merely curious, or bored of the same sell-upsell routine that happened in my sales job. Angie slithered against me, her chin touching my chest.

“You’re quiet, what’s up?”

I fixed my gaze on her green eyes as I stroked her blonde locks, there was some silver in them. In a couple of days, she would retouch them to revert to her snow blonde status quo. I wished she would keep them silver, the maturity was sexy.

“Work,” I said.

“You’re a bad liar,” she said. “If Charlie lived in Vancouver, you’da been caught years ago.”

I grimaced. I hated the possibility of my long distance girlfriend and my local paramour to bump into each other at a Superstore somewhere. Unlike Manila where passion and chagrin would erupt from the ladies and duke it out, Vancouver would be more a showdown of passive-aggressive backtalk.

“There’s this guy, Tonyboy,” I began. “I’m just wondering how he became homeless, Filipino families are these busybody know-it-alls, they’d get into your business and prevent you from doing something that would shame their family name like being homeless.”

“Probably a runaway then.”

“Dunno, I coulda been homeless once.”

“You’re a slave to your lifestyle, Harry. I find that hard to believe.”
I turned my gaze back to the ceiling.

***

Fall 2007

I received my permanent resident card after a year of film school, which entitled me to apply for work. For a second I believed it entitled me to be considered the same as any other Canadian. I thought so because my curriculum vitae didn’t come with a passport size photo the way most Filipino applications went. After the fifth door to door sales job, I began applying for everything. I considered three retail gigs and I opted for the game store at a mall.

They started me at eight an hour. Considering that most places at Manila started at ten bucks a day and I didn’t have to get on my knees for a HR manager, I did all right. After all I felt that it was to grab that elusive thing called “Canadian Experience”. It was base rhetoric to fill their minimum wage work force since most kids wanted a high paying office job. Same deal went back home, nobody wanted the shit jobs, starry-eyed suckers came from the province opted for it. I felt we were the starry-eyed suckers that came from backwater countries who started out at slave wage to get it.

The Canadian raised Filipino assistant manager appeared uncaring and aloof, his name was Jonas and for some reason, he was the one who hired me. Brendan Senior was the manager and Brendan Junior was the key employee. We would get new hires aplenty then would quit a few days in. I felt I needed to accrue about at least a couple of months before I could look for a new job.

The store was a box no larger than a two bedroom studio. It didn’t have a bathroom, the store room was about the size of a broom closet. They fit enough games to last three lifetimes in there. Some days I would stand inside and bring a bag of chips and drool. And drool I did until I found a Nintendo DS cartridge lying on the ground. It was not in a box, it was not stickered, it was lying there– like the fruit of forbidden knowledge. The snake was my underpaid brain justifying every second that the store would not able to track it. Without thinking, I swiped the game sending a ripple through time that I would never be able to take back.

***

Jonas and I grew chummier as the days went on while I built a library from stolen defectives. Customers would return said games and Senior would throw it into the defective pile. I only saw him send them out twice in my entire run at the game store so I took them and tested them out. Most of the time, it worked perfectly. Only about three games were duds from the get go.

Jonas came out to me one day saying that he had a massive hard on for Junior. Junior came in the store at one point with his boyfriend and then I goaded Jonas on his unrequited romance.

I made $112 on my first paycheck I remembered since I only worked a few days that week. As my hours grew, I saved up enough to buy my first junker, a 1990 Toyota Crown. I spent more to keep it alive than it got me anywhere, I usually took it out for a drive on the weekends.

I continued to steal games to put up with the slave labor, at least Jonas went down my level. At that point, I felt a little guilty at my thieving.

I confessed to Jonas about my thieving a little later into the month, I had a resignation letter as well. He accepted my resignation and took back the stolen games.

“You know, I use the defective bins to swipe a little cash on the side,” Jonas said.

I was a little shocked. If I noticed that Senior only did minimal returns, what more did the rest of the staff.

“Who else knows this?” I asked.

“Only me. Junior doesn’t.”

He showed me the simple method. He would look for old transactions in the system, buy shovelware at other stores for close to nothing and then return them at full price to either his debit card or a store gift card. It was technically free money.

“Listen to my counter offer– once you leave, work for a place that give massive discounts on shovelware, I’ll make it worth your while.”

“If I don’t?”

“That’s fine, I won’t rat you out to Senior,” Jonas said. “But consider the offer.”

After two weeks, I went through all my savings in half a month. I applied for a music megastore in downtown Van City because they had a game section nobody took seriously. I also noticed their massive selection of vaporware they sold for next to nothing.

Darwin was the manager for the DVDs and Games department and he liked my game knowledge. Started me off at $11/hour. He told me that I would be replacing the old games guy and wanted me to learn the tricks of the trade. It was easy to go up the ranks if I followed suit. That was interesting, but what interested me was their bargain bin and Jonas’ offer.

***

May 2, 2011

The Firefighter’s pub outside of Metrotown next to the Uncle Willy’s was a little different from what I was used to. I ordered two Mooseheads and Tonyboy ordered a poutine. Poutines got a little too old for me after a while. Tonyboy shotgunned his beer and asked for a second one.

“Whoa there,” I said.

“You can afford it,” Tonyboy said. “Slick salesman like you probably rake in five digits.”

“I’m just a junior sales rep,” I said. “I don’t have the same connections like the senior ones here.”

“You’re young, you’re good looking, you go fuckin’ around like everyone ‘ere?”

Wasn’t I be the one interviewing him? I felt taken aback by the bold question. It was a little sudden having a girlfriend and a paramour on the side, I still felt weirded out by my situation. I hailed the waitress.

“Another one already, that’s fast,” the waitress said as she took the empty pint glass. She eyed Tonyboy suspiciously. With that, me too. She turned and walked away.

“That puta is married but fucks everyone in this bar,” Tonyboy said.

“How would you know that?” I said.

“I see everythin’, who fucks who, where they fuck, and why the fuck. Imma fuckin’ fuckaradar.”

“You probably know everything about me then.”

“Nah, you different. You finish work and leave right away in your shitty Civic, you probably have a nicer car you never show everyone.”

I had a bike I hadn’t ridden in a year.

“So, how many bitches ya fuck?”

“What’s your story, Tonyboy?”

It was followed by awkward silence. Tonyboy began to work on his poutine while I nursed my brew. I observed our waitress. She was a heavyset middle aged woman who appeared friendly to the other staff also in the same forty-ish, fifty age range. I was breaking thirty and I wondered if I would still be in the service industry in ten years. She didn’t look the type who would sleep around but then again, Tonyboy only had time, and he chose to do a dissertation in the sexual behaviors of the mall’s denizens.

***

Winter 2008

I became a game launderer. Sounds lame, I know, but it was a great business. I would take home the bargain bin inventory list and would call up Jonas. There, we would pinpoint the games that had massive payouts for the lowest prices. Our biggest hit was Barrel of Monkeys, a popular shovelware that retailed for $54.99 at one point. I made $1200 for that game alone.

We only saw Lizzies and Bordens after a while. Sooner or later, we would also take some of the defectives and do some trades around the mall. Aldo shoes. Ipod Shuffles. Brooks Brothers’ suits. Milestones Dinners. Even dental trips. It’s crazy how quick people responded to free games and they would barter what little benefits they get from their store.

Junior found out of course. I kept forgetting they still had cameras. One thing I knew was that they never switched out the video tapes. The nerd started to record what went on in the backroom and confronted me when I went into the store one day.

“I know what you’re doing in the back,” Junior said.

“Dude, I don’t work here,” I said.

“Well, I’m going back to Cranbrook,” Junior said. “I’m not going to ban you from doing business at this store, but you step in the back one more time, I already informed Jonas and Brendan to call the cops if you trespass again.”

“Got it, boss.”

We laid low for the rest of the month, that was when I met Miranda.

Miranda started work that month as seasonal. She was from Toronto and was a legit ginger. She took a liking to me. I didn’t mind it. She was friendly, a total game nerd, but I was obsessed with the red hair.

Jonas borrowed my car to drop off Junior at Cranbrook. When Jonas confessed to Junior, and apparently Junior was going through an experimental stage in his life. Poor Jonas had to drive himself all the way back to Vancouver with the worst blue balls ever.

I gave Miranda a Nintendo DS on our second date. At first she couldn’t accept it, but I insisted. Had my first real Canadian Experience that night. After that I thought we had something then she got weird. She came in the next week with her hair dyed black, went all goth. I was like what did you too to your hair, she was like I’m not your girlfriend. It got nasty. I got clingy. She complained to Darwin that I harassed her, and I was like, we had sex– didn’t that entitle me to anything? They called me in Darwin’s office, I was fired for inappropriate sexual misconduct. Goddamn culture shock.

***

Jonas was arrested when he returned to work that week. I watched from an A&W across the street, eating a Mama Burger and a poutine waiting for him to finish work. VPD dragged the guy out along with some well dressed men with the game store lanyards around their necks. I immediately went home to my sister’s and packed my bags.

I booked a flight back to Manila and told the travel agent that it was for an emergency. I got a flight for the next day.  I called Maya later that night. I asked her if anyone was watching. She said there was a suspicious Ford Focus that was there for a few hours already.

I called my friend Paul to see if I could stay in his place. I didn’t want to stay with my parents. I was too ashamed. I talked big before I left. I was going to get an office job. I was gonna make them proud, I wasn’t gonna be the same schmuck who failed a call center gig.

I was homeless and a criminal. The plane ride was ten hours, the prison sentence in my mind continued. The restitution was steep. Maybe I would return to Canada another day. It was a nice place. It had a lot of trees. I already missed fries with gravy and curds. It was time to go home.

***

June 15, 2011

Tonyboy stopped showing up to the department store after I heard the cleaning lady caught him bathing in the washroom. Routine set in after a while: Sell appliances, upsell extended warranties, coordinate deliveries, try to save lemons when customers return for a refund, price match another store’s offer, pray for an electrical storm to wipe out half of Burnaby’s appliances so they would come to our store and I would be able to pay off all my debts.

It was Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals with the Canucks and Bruins tied at 3-3. Being the non-hockey fan, I was assigned the night shift. I heard from the downtown branch that they were posting me in Metrotown permanently as they cut down on the appliances staff but they wanted to keep me in the company.

Angie didn’t feel like hanging out after work as her husband wanted to watch Game Seven with her. Charlie had an art event, whatever that was. It was one of those days where after the job was done, I would go home and just sleep.

Then the riots started. News flash covered the event in real time. Crazy fuckers. Shouting. Bricks being tossed. Car being tossed over. They were angry. I saw the department store in the downtown being attacked by rioters. The couch was removed. A couple kissed passionately amidst the chaos.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered if Tonyboy was on the sidelines documenting the whole thing. I wondered what would had happened if they criminally charged me for stealing those games from the game store. Would I have been homeless as well? Would the shame consume me to not admit the guilt and to admit my stupidity to my parents borne out of greed and ennui? The shame lingered, old feelings triggered by the chaos.

I got off easy. I returned to Manila to lay low for a while, lied to my parents that I wanted to become an artsy photographer. I made ends meet by being a videographer for friends’ weddings. I eventually got back together with Charlie in 2009 and played house for a while. I eventually returned to Canada to avail of my citizenship and pay off all the debts incurred during my days of being stupid. One thing for sure, I could not eat poutine anymore after that. I just didn’t have the appetite for it.


Vincent Ternida’s whimsical brand of magical fiction makes his writing realistic and grounded. His fictional pieces “Java Mausoleum” and “Guide to Canadian Urban Wildlife” appeared in Ricepaper Magazine on 2017. See more of Harry, Annie, and Mickey in Ternida’s upcoming novella The Seven Muses of Harry Salcedo set for release in September 2018.   Vincent lives in White Rock, Canada.

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