Stella knew she should be scared. But what was there really to be afraid of? No one was paying any attention to her or to Noam. It was clear people were in their own world and them stopping to care about her was highly unlikely. So she wasn’t scared. Even though she was walking through a neighbourhood filled with addicts. Everywhere people were acting cracked out, shooting up, talking to themselves, while others talked and hung out. They were walking a major street and area in Vancouver that this community of users had taken over and built their own homes on. There were no cars in sight despite it being a 4-lane street. It was a tight squeeze for Noam and her and the other people meandering between the tents and tarps and storage containers that made up the East Hastings community. Noam was saying something about how the street had been closed around 15 years ago when the City determined it wasn’t safe to drive there anymore. There were just too many people wandering in the streets, too many homes, too many people drugged out, too many people filling the neighbourhood, for drivers to pass through safely. When the street closed for car traffic, the Community of East Hasting took over the space completely, creating more services and homes for the people living there.
“So… are you going to tell me why I’m here?” Stella turned to Noam, looking away from the fascinating sociological study in front of her. “I can’t exactly help if I don’t know what I’m helping with, can I?”
Noam smirked ever so slightly and then responded smartly, “I like walking here and I wanted to show you.” She didn’t like how smart he thought he was.
“You like walking here and you wanted to show me?” She repeated him skeptically, looking around. “I don’t get it.”
“There’s nothing to get.” He was still smirking.
She was tired and she didn’t have time for this guy’s games. “What are we doing here? I flew to Vancouver for a reason. And we walked here for a reason. These reasons could be yours or they could be the Academy’s but either way they aren’t mine. I think I have a right to know why I am here. I’m feeling really frustrated that no one wants to tell me why I am here.”
“I can’t answer such a big question for you, Stella. Why you are here? Why are any of us here? I’ve got my own purpose to solve.”
The fucking smirk on this guy’s face. And the stupid arrogant shit he says. Stella took a very large breath and as the air escaped though the teeth she was trying not to clench, so did the question, “Why am I in East Hastings, Noam? Tell me exactly that.”
Noam raised his hands as if to protect himself from the death stare she knew she was giving him. “Okay, okay. We’re here to find someone. A guy named The Rewriter. I’ve heard he’s doing something curious with the local population and I want to explore it more.”
“Um, this guy, yesterday, told me about the Rewriter. He’s one of the big dealers in the area.”
“Well, I trust what he says because he knows about everyone that lives here. And I don’t trust him because I have no reason to and he’s a thief and a drug dealer.”
“So what did he say that has you so interested?”
“He told me…” Noam paused for the slightest moment. Stella only noticed it because she noticed those kind of things. His face, in that slight moment, registered… something. “The Rewriter can change people somehow. He can brainwash them or something. This dealer claims he is turning crackheads into upstanding citizens, all by simply telling them a story. And I do mean literal crackheads. The guy was telling me this stuff because he was complaining about all the customers he’s losing to this guy. This guy is like, rewriting these people’s lives. Or something. It definitely sounds crazy and not at all true. So I want to meet this guy is. Find out the truth. We’re gonna go chat with him.”
“I feel like you’re still fucking with me somehow.” She really did.
He didn’t like that. His face said so. And then he said so. “Look, I’m not going to justify my interests to you but if you are interested in the story and in the truth, and want to investigate it further, you are welcome to join me.” He looked like he was going to start walking away but then he said, “All I ask is that you are open to what is being said and that you hold all your judgments until we are done speaking with this guy. Ask questions and get involved, but this tone you’re using, it’s not going to help us and it’s not helping you.”
She didn’t like that. “I don’t know what you mean about my tone.” She knew what he meant. She was being difficult. Then she remembered that he was, essentially, kinda, her co-boss. She did need to be professional, even if there was no one else technically watching them. “Let’s get moving,” she recovered with, “and see this guy. I promise to be good.”
“Great. Let’s go.” Noam reacted quickly and began walking away, towards what she assumed was the locale of the Rewriter. She had no choice, unless she didn’t want to play along, but to follow after him.
At least he paused for a moment to hold the door for me, Stella noted as they climbed the endless stairwell up to what was apparently a place called the ‘Loners Social Club’. When they reached the top of the dingy stairway, Stella was disappointed at the sight of a dingy hallway with bad lighting lined like wallpaper with sketchy dudes. Some were sitting on chairs, others were standing, all were hanging around, looking sketchy. All of them looked liked they had already lived a lifetime, each looking like they’d spent their life abusing their self. Sunken eyes and cheeks; downtrodden faces. Stella looked down as she passed by them, trying to feel their eyes as little as possible. She had learned a long time ago that eye contact was the key to avoiding unwanted attention. These men, she assumed, were the victims and fools of the Rewriter. From the pool of the hallway occupants, she judged the guy and the suggestion of what he could do, was almost comical in nature, in it’s stupidity. These men could never be normal, be ordinary, blend in again. Their choices showed on their faces. She glanced over at Noam, hoping he had realized the same thing, that these were just sad and pathetic people, saying sad and pathetic things, but his face portrayed nothing. He was starting intensely at the red door that was at the end of the hallway and seemed oblivious to her presence ever so slightly behind him.
The small black letters on the red door confirmed they had reached the ‘Loners Social Club’. With a quick knock, Noam was through the door, and Stella followed close behind, really not wanting to be left in the slightly creepy hallway with the totally creepy dudes. Inside, sitting behind a think wooden desk was a man in his fifties, in sunglasses, his wild eyebrows peaking out behind them. His long, thinning greying hair and a unkempt beard flowed as he spoke with an odd twang to, what Stella quickly identified as yet another creepy dude.
While they had burst into the room somewhat loudly and unexpectedly, neither of the men looked up, stopped what they were doing, or acknowledged their presence. The dude with the sunglasses continues to speak in a hushed, twangy voice to the other guy. The other guy keeps on listening.
Noam begins to cough. At first, she thinks it’s the dust that covered the piles and piles of books that lined the floor of the claustrophobically small office might be affecting him but as the coughing persists and grows increasingly dramatic, her irritation creeps in. If Noam’s coughing was meant to annoy, and it was working on her. It was annoying. Looking over at him, she sees his intent.
So she starts coughing. Not sure why she’s coughing since the whole reason they’re there is stupid—plus fake coughing is just so immature—she’s coughing anyway. She paces her coughs to arrive just as Noam’s are leaving, so they maximize the annoyingness of their symphony. She continues to cough with Noam like this for what seems like minutes, *cough*-pause-*cough*-pause. Noam looks away from the bearded dude for the first time and throws her a smile in appreciation of how truly annoying they are being. Despite herself, she smiles back.
The sketchy guy is the first to break. Only it turns out he is a she. She has a very squeaky and damaged voice and in the moment when she croaks out, “I can’t take this anymore,” she seems to break some kind of connection with the bearded dude. He immediately slumps back into his chair, seeming unconscious. The sketchy woman faces Stella and Noam and squeaks for them to “Shut. The. Fuck. Up!”
Stella stops coughing when she sees the woman’s face full on. It’s so weathered, gaunt, abused, and hopeless. You could see in her eyes that she had led a life that Stella could not even begin to comprehend. There was so much pain and sadness flying at her, she needed to look away. Sometimes it hurt too much for her to look too deeply into someone. It made her angry and sad and it made her want to fix things she knew she couldn’t.
Noam keeps coughing. And while he does, the poor woman glares at him and gets up to leave. She moves slowly from the pain you can see she feels in her body. It’s too much for Stella and she can’t help but continuously apologize to the woman until she has made it out the door of the tiny office. Then it was just them and the dude with the sunglasses.
Noam doesn’t stop coughing. The dude takes a moment to slump lifelessly behind the desk. He reminds her of the Dude in that Lebowski movie. I wonder if it’s an intentional reference? She can hear a faint snore coming from him. Throwing a ‘What now?’ look at Noam, she remembers how unsure she is of why they are here or who this guy really is.
Noam walks right up to the Dude, wedging himself between the desk and the chair he is sitting in. He lightly pushes the chair with his foot to make space, rocking it somewhat heavily at the same time. The Dude continues to be oblivious — to the movement of the chair or the proximity of Noam’s face to his.
Next Noam removes the Dude’s sunglasses. His eyes are closed and she swore she saw them moving around from REM sleep. “Is this guy seriously asleep?” she asked to no one. “Who is this guy? He’s ridiculous.”
“This is the Rewriter,” Noam shouted and pointed into the guy’s face. “We want to talk to you,” again he pointed like he was Uncle Sam into the man’s bearded face. “We have cash we want to give you.” Noam reached into his bag and pulled out a fat stack of cash and placed it in the Rewriter’s lap. Stella hadn’t noticed Noam’s bag before but she liked it. The leather was nice.
“This is the Rewriter?” she shouted, having fun being loud. “What a LOSER!” The Dude did not respond in the slightest.
Noam ignored her outburst and continued to reason with the Rewriter. “Come on, talk to us, man. We mean you no harm. We just want to hear about the work you do. We hear that you help people and we want to learn more about that. Do you offer initial consultations? Consider this one. We just want to learn more. Chris sent me. He seemed to think you’d be open to talking with us.” No response. Noam lifts the Dude’s lifeless arm. No response. Then he lets it heavily drop onto his chair’s arm once again. No response.
The lack-of-responsiveness of the Dude helped Stella’s mind to wander to a ridiculous movie she had accidentally watched a few months previous. It was old, way before films had become 5D, she was thinking it might even be from the 20th century. It wasn’t a highly regarded piece of cinematic history since no one had bothered to 5D-a-fy it but it was good in its own terrible way. The movie had been about two guys who pretend for a weekend that a corpse was alive. They talked to it, dressed it, played with it, took it out in public, and Stella swore she could remember a scene where they were waterskiing with it. Watching Noam interact with the Rewriter reminded Stella of the pathetic guys playing with Bernie, the corpse.
Noam was now waving his hands frantically in front of the Rewriter’s face and shouting, “Hello? He-llo? Hell-o?” He was being very annoying. If that guy wasn’t unconscious she didn’t know how he wasn’t punching Noam in the face. She kinda wanted to punch him in the face.
“This is ridiculous, “ she declared, feeling suddenly overwhelmed. “I’m leaving.” Stella was determined to liberate herself from the situation NOW and she wanted Noam to know it. “You coming?”
Noam’s face for a moment registered anger. Stella doubted if he liked or was used to being challenged. She supposed he was used to being the leader and being alone. Doing what he wanted. So was she. With one last wave, Noam looked at the Rewriter, gave his chair a final kick and said, “Fuck this. Let’s go.”
The office was so tiny and cluttered that as they maneuvered out of it, they couldn’t help but brush against each other. And Stella couldn’t help but notice that was the first time they had touched.