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Shots Fired

Stephen Osborne

What makes a real city real?

On the afternoon of September 11, 24, in a Lebanese café on Hastings Street near Victory Square in Vancouver, a heavy-set older man in a windbreaker and baseball cap who had been chatting quietly with the proprietor began to speak up in a remarkable gravelly voice on the subject of what was wrong with this city; or, to put it another way, he said to the proprietor in measured tones, I can tell you what this city needs, what this town doesn’t have nearly enough of, he said, is more shots fired. He paused with these words and it was clear now that he was addressing not only the proprietor, an amiable man in an embroidered flat-topped cap who was standing behind the counter, but everyone in the café, young women and men sitting alone or in pairs at tiny tables and along the tiny counter, students from the downtown university campus and the film school at the end of the block, with their books and magazines and hushed conversations, all of whom ceased talking or reading or staring out the window to look over at the proprietor and the gravelly-voiced man in the windbreaker, who seemed, to me at least, to be an unlikely connoisseur of baba ghanouj, tabbouleh, hummus or the falafel wrapped in pita that lay on the plate before him; he held a folded newspaper in his hand as if it were a pointer or a wand; he was forceful but not unfriendly; in fact he was smiling.

The proprietor remained attentive but uncommitted; he seemed to be a man of considerable equanimity. Earlier when I had asked for a bowl of lentil soup, for example, from my stool at the other end of the counter, he met my gaze solemnly with a nod that seemed to seal a pact between us that would never be broken. Perhaps it was his trusting and at the same time conspiratorial manner that encouraged the gravelly-voiced man in the windbreaker to speak so forthrightly to a room full of strangers, all of whom had fallen silent at the words more shots fired, and remained silent as he went on to describe a recent journey in a pickup truck along the coastal highway through California, Oregon and Washington, accompanied by his faithful dog Alf, whom he referred to as his best living friend. Now in this city here, he said, as he returned to his theme in the same measured tones, you got a fine city here, don’t get me wrong, a good city, a good-looking city, but you can’t call it a real city. You go to L.A. to get real, he said. As much as I admire this city, he said, but this city is not real like L.A. is real. That’s where what you need is more shots fired. Say what you want about L.A., but you go to L.A., you get shots fired, lots of shots fired.

None of the other diners offered to contradict or to affirm these remarks delivered with such authority by the gravelly-voiced man, who now looked confidently along the counter toward me and toward the other diners, inviting a response from any who wished to speak. But no one spoke; perhaps, being young film students and university students, and a marijuana advocate or two from the paraphernalia shop across the street, they felt that the gravelly-voiced man in the windbreaker was in some disquieting way right in his call for more shots fired; but to agree with him would be to collude in an unpleasant truth about ideas of urbanity and the city, and to argue with him would be to expose oneself as naïve and foolish. Eventually a young man at the front of the café spoke up, only to ask the gravelly-voiced man in the wind

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Stephen Osborne

Stephen Osborne is a co-founder and contributing publisher of Geist. He is the award-winning writer of Ice & Fire: Dispatches from the New World and dozens of shorter works, many of which can be read at geist.com.


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The writing contest whose name is almost as long as the entries! Deadline is May 20, 2024.