Smoke & Buttons

by gonzo leech

Editor’s Note:

During a late night editorial meeting, only weeks after we first floated the idea of a The Cannon Street Bellows, a stranger walked into The Tower. She said that she heard some kids got dressed up like pigeons and sprayed sour milk at developers, we said we heard that too. She chuckled and handed us an envelope, filled up a mug of coffee for herself, said she would have more in a few weeks, and walked out with our mug. The envelope was labeled G.L. and contained the following article, hand written on coffee-stained foolscap. We were stunned — even for a crew of cynical anarchists this was pretty curmudgeonly stuff. But it seems like the real deal, so we’ve decided to give it space in this publication. Hopefully she comes around again. We don’t know what G.L. stands for, but around the Tower we’ve been calling her the Gonzo Leach. Enjoy.


They say things are changing around here. I say my toenails change more in an hour than this city changes in a lifetime. These days everyone’s got a little smoke to blow about it, but maybe that’s old too. Big boys with big voices pointing big fingers making big promises. Big fucking deal. A new class of swingin-dick real estate goofs rubbing shoulders with the same spineless pen-pushers, all getting their boots licked by some keener little shitloaf entrepreneurs. And now a few fucking artist kids start hocking their trash-collages and smarmy t-shirts on James and everyone loses their shit? Big fucking deal. Forty years ago kids were out on James wearing the same shredded clothes and listening to the same junky cassettes. Nothing’s changed. Those kids all went to work in Jackson square when that twenty-acre nightmare fell from the sky and ruined their little scene, just like ten years from now these kids will all be floor managers at the boutiques that are gonna elbow them outta their studios. Don’t worry, they’ll have lots of time to tell romantic stories to their kale-munching kids about the time when art meant something, before it sold out. One of them will probably publish a book called “Crawling Towards Freedom” or some shit like that. What a joke.

Trust me, nothing’s changed. Just because it happens in a different decade on a different street doesn’t mean it’s different. First they argued about one-way streets, then bike lanes, now back to two-way streets — it’s all the same goddamn pavement anyway, hurts my feet all the same. Meanwhile everyone’s hollering about the LRT like we didn’t already have that a hundred years ago! When I was younger the kids used to low-gear around on shitty Sears bikes causing trouble, now they do the same thing with these blue rent-a-bikes, but they forget that there’s GPS in em! Same hustles, same slow-ass criminals in this city. Less cigarette butts then there used to be, but enough to get by.

And that’s what really hasn’t changed. There’s always a way to get by in this city, always a next hustle. Shit’s still free if you know where to look for it. The ribbon cuttings and conferences serve egg salad, the art galas have wine, the neighborhood meetings got coffee and cookies. The churches, food banks, and community gardens are open season. Blind spots at the Shoppers Drug Mart, plus the dumpsters out back always got juice. Christmas at Denningers, Thanksgiving at the mission, yes ma’am that’s where you’ll find me. The invisible one tucked into the corner with a coffee and a warm cheddar biscuit, making nice if I need to but mostly just being a ghost. I try not to hear shit, to keep to myself, but people got smoke to blow, ya know? So I hear things.

Now they got this 541. I love it! I don’t even have to be a ghost in here. I just walk right in, grab a mitt full of buttons, eat my food, and no one bothers me. Buncha sweethearts they are! The curly one asks about my leg ulcer, baldie makes cute about how my bacon has gotta be real crispy or I won’t eat it, the owner comes to check on me and sometimes refills coffee, says she likes my earrings. They got all these high school girls working for fucking chocolate milk! Ear-to-ear smiles, everyone of ‘em (bless their wandering souls). Meanwhile all the Village rabble can’t fucking believe their eyes, scrambling to get it while the gettin’s good. But here’s what they don’t know. Ten o’ Clock. That’s the ticket. Too early and the button jar’s still empty from yesterday, too late and it’s drained by the lunch rush. Ten o’ clock, after all the professors and startup kids have filled up on lattes and good karma. That’s when it’s good. Only five buttons a day so I gotta be smart. If I still need my coffee, I go pancakes for four and coffee for one. If I already got my caffeine, I do breakfast sandwich with bacon. Easy.

Too good to be true right? Ya well they got this framed thing on the wall by the shitter about “Love in the name of Jesus”. All I can think about is that time I fucked on the altar at James Street Baptist. (Heard they’re gonna shit condos all over that place!) Still makes me squirm. I can’t believe these church-monkeys are still out here preaching the same garbage, reading that same ratty book. Whatever. Let em have their Burlington cult-mansions, I just hate to see the kids buy into it. This place doesn’t seem too preachy, but one time I found a jesus-book in the kids corner so I accidentally spilled some coffee on it.

541 is one of those places where it’s hard not to hear things. This place made it safe for the suits to hang out on Barton, so now they have meetings at the big table in the middle or pair up at the window bar. You wouldn’t believe the shit that comes out of these peoples’ mouths. They drop a couple buttons in the jar at the counter, and then spend their lunch hours talking about how to get poor people outta the neighborhood. They say the Village is gonna be the new James Street, the new Junction, the new Brooklyn, drooling on each others cuff links trying to figure out how to fuck over the people they just bought lunch for! But if you wanna know what they’re really saying you gotta read between the lines. Hauser talks “investment bravery”, Wonch talks “increased surveillance”, Norton talks “renewal”. All I hear is smoke. 541 is so full of smoke I could cure a fucking trout in there! But I guess that’s just the point. A place like this brings together people who are really at war, but makes em feel like they can all get along. Before the suits can do condos and frappuccinos they gotta have somewhere to eat lunch with the common folks. That’s the 541. It’s not the first time jesus has laid the groundwork for an invasion. Same old fucking story.

Ya know what though? These bible-humpers make a mean biscuit! Just as long as they keep their shit to themselves. Like everyone probably — keep your shit to yourself. Do your hustle, save the smoke. You’re not fooling anyone. Yer either making a buck or trying to get into heaven. Don’t need to dress it up with all this neighborhood development, philanthropic, eco-fetish bullshit. We’re still getting pushed around, you’re still getting yours. Nothing changes.