The Observer

by Mecca Normal

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"I'm intrigued by you," he says. "You're beautiful. Beautiful." "Thank-you," I say, wondering if this is just another line -- just another game. Wondering how much recent deception informs my reaction. We connected right from the start. You can't make this happen. You can't make this happen. Can you? Someone wouldn't be able to make this happen. It gets chilly. We step inside. I make more tea – plain tea. Cheap tea. He says, "I love a woman who adorns herself with jewelry. I like a woman who has variation in her wardrobe. I love good shoes on a woman and beautiful lingerie." He suggests I visit a website of Austrian-designed underwear. "It's expensive, but it's beautiful, it's beautiful," he says. I stand there by the stove, in my slutty outfit, the total of which probably cost me $15, including my $1 panties and my Value Village bra. "What do you wear during the day, when you're working here alone?" he asks. "Old Levis cords, a t-shirt, paint-splattered Hush Puppies with holes in the soles." I guess I could have said, "Prada, darling." Adornment. He's an architect of many things -- hospital, hotel, a prison in Texas. He's going to bring his grand piano out of storage. In bed he tries to put the condom on. He curses. I try to see what he's doing, but I'm pinned beneath him. I hear him stretching the condom like he's making a balloon animal. He gives up and I lie there under him – two hundred and thirty pounds. He says, "Am I crushing you?" "Sort of," I say. He gets off me. In his deep, sexy voice he says, "I want to please you." "You do please me," I say, as one does. "I mean really please you," he says. "OK," I say, and then we both laugh, me -- until I cry. He says, "We have time. Don't warn me. Don't warn me. Don't warn me about yourself." "OK," I say. Does that include not telling him that I'm too cheap to take the bus -- I walk twenty minutes to get to the store and that I carry my groceries home in my packsack -- which is fine with me. I don't buy crackers and cheese and pickles and cookies because they are too expensive. I know the prices on almost everything in the little shops -- if oranges are 59 cents a pound here and the same ones 49 cents a pound across the street. I will cross the street to save whatever it is on my two oranges -- and brag about it. He's going to bring his grand piano out of storage. He says, "We have time. We have time and you're beautiful and you're intriguing." He's going to bring his grand piano out of storage. And I say, "Thank you." Wondering if this is just another really long line, another really long and complicated line. He's the architect of another really long line. Another really long line.
1922 06:32
“What happened to the art she made?” I walked out of the French doors of the library. In my mind I have a painting of you. I walk past the statue; seen it every day, every day of my life here. Walking across the lawn in 1922. Carrying a glass. Holding a plate. It’s 1922 -- nothing’s automatic. Nothing’s precise. All colour comes out of a tube. This was before me. This was before you. I’m happy here in 1922. There is no Radio Shack. I couldn’t be an over-achiever if I tried. I’m happy, it’s 1922 – I don’t know if it was a good year; I’ve got nothing to compare it to. I’m walking on the lawn, grass under my feet. Museums are for men -- we know this. Men need history. We need it. We are men; we need to remind ourselves of that. I don’t feel important enough in the present tense. History reminds me -- I’m a man. I’m important, yes I am. I don’t know where Sweden is or was or will be. It’s 1922 and it’s raining in long dashes. Silvery long, leaping slivers into the centers of oscillating circles, like punctuation leading out of the library, out of the patio doors -- demanding a thrilling conclusion to a book I will never write. It’s 1922 and I’m happy. He’s talking to his dog. He’s out of focus. Out of balance. So far out of whack. He’s telling his dog, “You’re going to have to learn, you’re going to have to learn, boy. Don’t be so pushy. Don’t be so pushy.” He’s talking to his dog, crazy detrimental male programming. He’s generating misunderstandings with his dog. It’s 1922 and I’m happy. (…he’s a jerk, he's a jerk, he's such a jerk…) “Where’s the art she made?” “It’s on the wall, but we don’t call art. In the cool of the summer kitchen. We put it there until we need it – we don’t call it art. It’s something we use – not every day, but we don’t call it art.” I’m a man and I’m happy, it’s 1922. I eat three times a day to keep my strength up. Saturday night I fling my hairy fist into the wall if my bath water’s cold. I need history to remind me – I’m important. He's walking on the lawn towards a milk pail – he's going to kick it over – he doesn’t care if it’s empty or full. The womenfolk are the scientists and organizers. The women sit together in analyzing rooms arriving at conclusions. (…he’s a jerk, he's a jerk, he's such a jerk…) I’m a man and I’m happy.
Fallen Skier 12:43
"What about this guy?" "You can't really see his face." "But he likes opera. He can't be all bad." "Here, click on this guy's profile." I pick the date. I pick the place for date -- a radical bookstore to which he, a forty-seven-year-old English student has never been. "They have a nice little fiction and poetry section." Two blocks from where he lives on the downtown eastside. He crosses the street diagonally and runs his fingers splayed through his hair. Question and answer, we tell our life stories over dinner and walking in the tourist sector and out to the pier where cruise ships dock and Americans meander. Fallen skier, waiter, party guy. His favourite place to work was a well-known Greek restaurant where the staff were encouraged to drink -- half price -- upon arriving for work. The coke dealer shows up and the day begins. Fallen skier, waiter, party guy owned four Cadillac El Dorados in a row. Self-described waiter slash ski bum until he was thirty-nine, then his parents died. He didn't handle it very well. He didn't handle death very well. He took a room in the creepiest of the crappy skid row hotels and lost his belongings when he couldn't pay the rent. He claims he moved down there "because that's where the services are. You got your rehab, your detox, and counselling. You got your twelve-step, and your food bank." Warning-warning-warning – red flag. No one moves to skid row to get clean. Will I be playing the part of the woman helping him get his life back on track? Standing on the pier half-watching the sun go down. A cloud of mist is giving great definition to the trees which should have been flat and invisible. I am thinking of saying something about how the mist is making things clear, but I decide to keep that thought to myself. I feel I am with a boy, a very young boy -- he's only been away from home twenty-seven years, he’s only had twenty-seven summers, and twenty-seven winters of partying and skiing. I guess that's why he hasn't got anything together yet. I don't think he realizes it, but his life has gotten away from him. After quitting school in grade eleven he bought a van so he could go on ski trips to Vermont. He didn't leave home until he was twenty. I ask about his plans. He might like to go backpacking in Europe -- skiing in Switzerland, but not while he's still a student. I cannot make him a forty-seven year old man. He remains a boy -- tall, skinny, boyish features with that faded worried look. Fallen skier, waiter, party guy slips into an anxious silence. I feel the urge to ask "What's wrong?" Oh god! Let me not start with that! I think we may have run out of things to say. I told my Readers Digest version of my life over dinner. He gave no indication of being attracted to me -- no compliments, no lingering looks across the table intending to reveal interest. We didn't talk about relationships or dating expectations. It was like being stuck with a visiting friend of a friend getting rooked into going out to dinner our conversation was only kind of OK -- only kind of OK. Near the end, out on the pier, after the sun has gone down, he asks me about this music of mine, "Is it ever all-out punk?" He seems concerned that it might be hardcore punk. I stand, a middle aged woman in a fantastically subtle silk jacket all the way from Japan. Hush Puppies. Curly hair blowing in the wind, and this guy is fretting over the possibility that I'm actually Henry Rollins. I try to explain punk, myself, but fail at making an impact here. He never did ask the name of my band. Never tried to touch me. I ask what sort of music he listens to. He says his taste is eclectic. My least favourite answer to a question meant to increase understanding. Eclectic in this case means that music isn't really important to him. It isn't really important to him. He says his taste 'varies' and he's never been into the live music scene. Never been, never been into the live music scene. After eclectic comes techno. I'm still trying to make him forty-seven; he's stuck in my mind -- a boy. A boy who might backpack around Europe once he finishes school. Carefully I ask if he does anything you might call creative -- perhaps he finds creative expression making an espresso, a cappuccino. I don't know. He thinks a minute and says he doesn't play music or paint, if that's what I mean, but he does watch TV -- free cable in his creepy-freaky hotel room -- and he likes to go… he likes to go to the movies. To the movies. I can only half-think about being so grey and dispassionate to call watching TV creative. I guess, to him, art is a hobby and his hobby is being entertained. The sun is down and I blurt out that I have to get back to the other side of town. At my bus stop I ask if I can give him a hug. I mean a hug good-bye. We hug and he cheers up. He decides to wait with me for the bus. By the time I get home he's emailed to ask me out again. I should have skipped the hug. I go to bed rather than hit reply. Perhaps he's on anti-depressants, or anti-psychotic drugs. Could be why he doesn't drink. My internet dating experience. I want to get back to my work.
Song slivers arrive in shipping and receiving, between photo-cutter roar and dry-mounting rumble. With my mind, I add the sounds together and turn the nearly inaudible music from Aileen's radio into Marvin Gaye -- regardless of what's playing I hear Sexual Healing. Mike, a young guy from the digital department, comes to look out the window. Wincing at the brightness, he fingers the paper white orchid. I turn away. He asks me, "What's your favourite movie?" "Harold and Maude," I say. "It's about a suicidal young guy who falls in love with an eccentric old woman." "What's your second favourite movie?" "Picnic At Hanging Rock," I say. "It's about some Australian school girls who get lost in the outback." Mike lays his head on the postage scale. "Ten pounds ten ounces," I say. Maria talks about her new roommate "He's white. He's single. He's fifty, but he's circumcised." She looks at me. I'm the only Caucasian in the room. "Do you prefer cut or uncut?" Maria asks. In my mind I see the penises of recent dalliances, dicks and cocks of old relationships cut, uncut. Maria and the other Filipinas are waiting for my answer, for my preference. Maria says, "Uncut is ugly." Aileen says, "How do you know?" Maria says, "I've seen a photo." The dark side of Maria. We are nibbling on Kirk's banana bread. Kirk is the Jethro Bodine handyman of the photo lab. He's been phoning his mother across three time zones to get her recipes. He brings baked goods to work, on the bus, triple plastic-wrapped. Pies, cookies, biscuits -- he wants a reaction. He wants a reaction from the dark side of Maria.
Arsenal 05:29
The Observer 04:37
The Message 02:39


Originally released by Kill Rock Stars, 2006
(c) 2006 SOCAN Lester/Smith
(p) 2013 Smarten UP! Records

Cover photo by Jean Smith

When you buy the album or tracks here, the money goes directly to the artist.


Article by Jessica Hopper for the Chicago Reader


released June 17, 2013

Jean Smith vocals. David Lester guitar. Additional instruments by Jean Smith. Recorded by Jordan Koop at The Hive, Vancouver, Canada in 2006.


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Mecca Normal Vancouver, British Columbia

“Empathy for the Evil” (2014, M'lady's Records)

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