Between my late teens and mid-thirties I composed countless songs for which the words were of utmost importance. This focus on lyrical content was admittedly at the expense of melodic and harmonic structure. Nonetheless, it shows that my writerly aspirations as they pertain to this memoir have their roots in the distant past. Back then I did my best to mimic the working-class angst of Springsteen and Mellencamp. From those two blue-collar bards I learned about the appeal of relatable characters. Desmond Child, co-writer of Bon Jovi’s megahit, Livin’ On A Prayer, is another purveyor of relatable characters. He knows all about the power of a killer riff but I’m sure he’d be the first to say the words are what make the song in much the same way that the soul, not the clothes, make the human.
Tommy used to work on the docks, union’s been on strike
He’s down on his luck, it’s tough, so tough
Gina works the diner all day working for her man
She brings home her pay, for love, for love
She says, we’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got
It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not
We’ve got each other and that’s a lot for love
We’ll give it a shot
Nine hundred million views and counting on YouTube, and it’s all down to the gritty yet uplifting story being told. Almost all of Bon Jovi’s hits were co-written by Desmond Child, a gay man of Hungarian descent. I’m sure it’s safe to say he knows what it’s like to have to crawl across broken glass where others walk blithely unencumbered. And so do I. Being raised by a single mom beneath the poverty line opened my eyes to the drudgery of life at an early age. Seeing her come home from work dead tired and smelling of perchloroethylene: the dry-cleaning solvent responsible for her early onset dementia, was, well, difficult. I suppose that’s what made me dream of becoming a platinum selling recording artist who could buy her a house and car, and personally see to it that she never had to work again.
I wrote many songs for her over the years but the one she liked best was called The Stain He Left On Her Could Never Be Cleaned. All I remember now is the first verse and chorus, which went like this:
She served up éclairs when she wasn’t at school
Her boss’s hands were greedy and cruel
And in the back room, he had his way
On a day like any other day
The stain he left on her could never be cleaned
The tears she cried at night could never be seen
The baby she had in the bathroom was hers to raise
And none of her friends ever saw her in school again
Maybe my high hopes for the song, which featured a big chorus full of major chords followed by a moody resolution on the relative minor, would’ve been dashed by its dark subject matter. Then again, Pumped Up Kicks, by Foster The People—a song written from the ghoulish perspective of a school shooter—was well on its way to a couple billion views, last time I checked.
Mom liked every one of my songs but there were those she singled out as being hits, so I played them for her more often than the others. By virtue of repetition they are now the only songs retrievable from my memory, and I’ll be discussing them here and there throughout this memoir, in her honour. For now, I’d like to return to the mall, specifically to where the garbage bags were kept before they were taken out to the dumpsters on the eve of collection day.
On the Monday after visiting Darryl at his apartment, it became clear to me that I did, in fact, have nothing better to do with my free time than sift through the trash in search of the missing girl’s mysterious piece of paper. She had been occupying my thoughts since watching the video of her in the stall. The pained look on her face spoke volumes about the disposable life of a sex-trafficked minor—a look that haunted me, robbing me of sleep, and come Monday morning, I was hellbent on finding what I knew in my bones would be an important lead.
Luckily, I had developed a system that allowed me to quickly narrow down the location of a discarded item should I be asked to find one. Which is to say, I grouped garbage bags together if they were from the same area of the mall. Requests for me to search through my trove of trash for accidentally or intentionally discarded items, a day or two after the fact, happened every now and then. Most of the time I’d conduct my searches on behalf of elderly folks who in senior moments had thrown out their eyeglasses, or their pill organizers along with the wrappers from the food court sandwiches they had eaten. On rarer occasions, I’d be forced through the needle in a haystack rigmarole because Darryl’s underlings didn’t get paid enough to physically apprehend the meaner looking thieves. Yelling out a warning from a safe distance was more in keeping with their paygrade: “The cops are waiting outside so you might wanna toss the diamond ring in the garbage before you’re caught with it,” was an effective line of reasoning, as it kept the pilfered merchandise inside the mall and prevented right hooks to the jaw. Unfortunately for me, it meant sifting through rubbish for hours on end.
Anyway, on the Monday after hanging out with Darryl at his apartment, I worked late under the guise of getting long overdue tasks done. In reality, garbage bags were being torn apart in search of the missing girl’s discarded piece of paper. Initially, it seemed a fruitless endeavor despite visiting Darryl’s office earlier in the day to view the food court footage again. More attention was paid to the details; thus I was able to clearly see the paper being passed between the girl and her trafficker, thereby refreshing my memory with respect to its size and shape. Either detective Brent’s inattentiveness caused him to miss this important exchange, or he had sinned by omission; deliberately ignoring what he saw in order to hasten the close of an investigation that’d been deemed a waste of his time.
Darryl must’ve interpreted my visit as an indication of me warming up to his consequentialist motivations. In other words, dropping by his office to view the food court footage for a second time was proof positive that his spy camera had piqued my concern for the well-being of the missing girl, and in his mind, this end justified his unscrupulous means. Naturally, he wasted no time boasting about it.
- Well, well, well, it appears my quote unquote spy camera turned out to be an instrument of the greater good.
- If I can find the piece of paper, and if it has important information like a phone number, and if the phone number belongs to someone who knows what happened to the missing girl, then and only then will I say your spy camera was an instrument of the greater good.
He spun back around in his chair, returning his attention to the paperwork he had previously been attending to. The dejected look on his face made we want to say something encouraging, so I told him I was thinking about conducting my own investigation into the missing girl, and if it turned out I located her, then he would be a hero for risking his job and reputation in the name of the greater good.
- Now you’re starting to see the light, Andy. This is the safest mall in the world and as long as I’m here it’s going to stay that way, which is why I’m leaving the camera up in the men’s washroom.
- There’s a spy camera in the men’s washroom too?
- All in the name of top-notch security.
- I’ve used that fucking washroom before.
- I know, but I don’t sit there staring at you while you’re wiping your bum or anything. Relax.
- Relax? You have video of me pissing, shitting, and then there was that time I…
- Yes, you jacked off. It’s okay, almost everyone does it. Maybe not during work hours, or in a public place, but they all do it. Not me though, I’m beyond that vulgar pastime.
- It was during my lunch break, Darryl, and I was only in there because the employee washroom was out of order.
- Don’t worry, I hereby promise to never say anything about it, and I mean that sincerely, however, if for some reason you decide to break your promise to me regarding my camera, or if you try to remove it from the men’s washroom, then let’s just say I have enough insurance to make you reconsider.
- I thought we were friends.
- We are friends but if you decide not to be my friend by breaking your promise, then I’ll do the same.
- My promise won’t be broken.
- Good, and for your information, I didn’t put a camera in the employee washroom, meaning you have unsurveilled options for jacking off.