The Ethics of
by Mike Saturday
The night is any other: a long walk— two or three hours— through downtown Vancouver and then back to the office to sleep. My feet are sore from my yet-to-be-worked-in new sneakers (SEE: The Ethics of Shoe Theft). All I want is to slide my pass through the security system, unlock the door and go upstairs to bed. Outside the office and I pat my pockets. Fuck. No pass.
I search my bag, my pockets (again), everywhere more than twice. I even check inside my Walkman. Nothing. My feet burn as I retrace my steps, all three hours of them. I walk these popular downtown streets for the fourth or fifth time tonight. After another hour fatigue sets in hard, and I give up. I've slept on these streets before, shit, I can do it again. Tonight.
It won't be as easy because I'm wearing shorts, and I have no sleeping bag this time. But I won’t be locked out for long; the door opens at seven and I can rest all day if I need. I walk back to the office to knock on the glass door; I hope for a security guard or someone (anyone) who can and will let me in. A block before Forget there is a hotel, and I check its doors. Locked. As I walk away someone opens the door (with their pass) and I casually walk in with them. I wait for them to leave the lobby in an elevator then check all the doors that lead anywhere — all locked. I try an elevator, but they only work with room keys. I almost smash something to lift my spirits (and to smash something) but instead notice an elevators coming down. 17, 16, 15, I split.
Back on the street and getting tired, I need only a place to sleep. I slept in some park a block away before, and I head there now. I walk up the stairs, towards the grass, and think ‘Yeah, this isn't so bad,’ and am immediately answered by the stench of new urine. I gag a little and look to the top of the stairs, where a man stands staring at me; eyes glazed hand on piece, still urinating down the steps. His effort makes a little waterfall down three or four steps. It ends and makes a pool on my sneakers.
I walk around the park (in the opposite direction as the man who had just been making waterfalls in the stairwell), and I see a higher-level area; a part only accessible by scaling a fence. Small task and a safe bet if I want to keep myself free from urine for the rest of this night. And I do.
I jump the fence easily and explore; this area is dry and set apart from the rest of the people and the park. Suddenly, the grass beneath my foot squeaks and rustles. It is dark because none of the parks lights make it up here. I guess it is a squirrel I have disturbed; another squeak, grass rustling again, this time back towards me (I'm lying down by now). Out into a dirt patch it rolls, and it's no squirrel. Instead, my company is an impressively ugly Vancouver rat.
I search desperately for another bed, any bed, by now my standards gone way down. All I look for is a flat surface with no urine and no rats. From the park platform I climb another chain link fence and drop quietly onto the lower portion of some hotel roof. I walk in circles for a minute or two; when confidant there are no urinating rats I collapse.
After lying there for a few minutes I realize that regardless of how dead-tired I am, I will not get to sleep easily. This realization comes almost exactly the same moment I realize this hotel roof also covers a nightclub that favors techno music. My Walkman is my pillow now; and while my legs freeze in the cold night wind the entire roof shakes with barely-muted techno music.
Somehow, eventually, I pass out. My sleep, though, is a horrible one; dreams invaded by shirtless men and go-go dancers and soon, not long, I am violently awake again.
I don't know what time it is; but I am sure it is cold and I know I'm not getting back to any decent sleep here. I stand up, and again explore the surroundings. I see an open window that leads to a stairwell, it's open less than a foot. My efforts to further open the window prove futile; the window is bolted as I found it. Undaunted, I throw my bag and jacket through and start jamming myself. I'm good to my chest and then, instead of moving, I'm stuck. No matter my efforts and furious motion, I can't get any further inside, and I can't get back out either. I struggle some more, then rest for a minute; I think about when I'll be found this way. Discovered wedged in this windowsill, filthy hair and clothes of a criminal, maybe a failed burglar, definitely something bad.
I fight some more; now just to get out, and soon I'm hyperventilating. Think of something, fucking anything, some trick I learned in boy scouts, to get me out. Maybe a good one-liner from TV to lighten up the situation when I'm inevitably found. Then it hits me: Television. I'm a child again, in front of the television; I see that special on Houdini where they explain his magic. Turns out he had quite a few tricks: The most impressive and useful was his ability to dislocate his shoulders on demand. The one I remember, and can use now, is as he would be strapped into a straight jacket he would breathe deeply, to make his chest as large as possible, escape made that much easier when he would exhale. I take two deep breaths to calm myself, exhale and push hard, forward this time, and like I am Houdini, I'm in.
It's the worst hotel I have ever been inside. The walls are mildew yellow and it reeks something like death. Still, it's indoors as am I, if just barely, so I climb the stairs to the sixth floor and look again for somewhere to sleep.
I walk the hall and avoid damp spots in the carpet. I notice a bike in an alcove. I look it over. It wears a crusty black paint job but has shiny new Rok Shoks. It is a bike that does not belong in this hotel, and I know it has been stolen from somewhere else. Again I walk the hall and now step out an open fire-escape, to breath a better air. I guess it is now close to four AM. The techno club is closed but downtown, especially this part of downtown, does not sleep. The night is still alive and still filled will drunken shouts and car horns. A breeze blows across the rusted ladder of this rusted fire escape and I lean back against the rough brick and take a good deep breath of the early morning air.
Just then it occurs to me that I could use a bike—that bike—and that this fire escape would make a good way of removing it. I shake the thought from my head and turn back into the building; now into the shared, one per-floor bathroom. I lock the door, crawl into the shared bathtub, and turn off the lights. I wonder what I have become.
I'm lying folded up in the tub trying to determine what is the shared smell and soon I realize that this isn't going to work either. There's no way I will get to sleep in this bathtub. Once again I think of that bike: cruising around Vancouver on it, racing and weaving through the late-night and early-morning traffic, with that same cool breeze in my face now.
Now, to say I have never stolen anything would be untrue, to say the least. In fact, that would a blatant lie, to put it more correctly. But I am an ethical thief, taking only from big, evil companies never from individuals or little guys. And shit, my own bike has been stolen several times with varying results (SEE: The Ethics of Vigilante Justice). This however, seems different. Someone obviously stole this bike from its rightful owner. It's an ill-gotten gain and therefore deserves to be stolen again. Right? Right? (I am not convinced either but still go back down the hall toward that bike again).
Upon closer inspection, the rear-tire is deflated, but there is a second rear tire in the hall. I leave the extra tire for an easy second run and head for the fire escape with the bike. I'm still reasoning, convincing myself.
I leave the bike on the lowest level of the fire escape and then do a similar trip for the tire. When they are together at the bottom of the fire escape I hang the bike by its handlebars off the ladder, it goes down another 5 feet. Next I hook the spare to the hanging bicycle, and then focus my attention on getting myself down.
With my feet on the bike frame and my hands on the top of the ladder, I've a fair distance between the ground and me. I switch my hands to a rusted bar under the fire escape and then let go with my feet. Reaching over with one hand I unhook the spare tire and hesitantly let it drop the last ten or fifteen feet to the ground. I grab the bike and hang it as low as I can to the ground. Looking down, there are still ten feet from the lowest wheel to the cement of the parking lot below. I am now hanging from a bar, my left hand holding on underneath the fire escape, my right hand being pulled downward by the weight of the bike; everything still very much in the air. Fuck. There's no way but down; so I drop the bike and wince as it hits the ground, bouncing and twisting loudly below. I wait for it to stop moving and then jump down to assess the damage.
Picking up the bike I see the chain is off and I know it'll have to fix it before I can ride anywhere; and of course there is still the flat. It's exactly at this point that I hear, "Where'd you get the fuckin' bike?"
Looking up, I realize I have no answer, at least none that would appease these three huge men - maybe barmen-walking aggressively towards me.
I'm silent. So much runs though my head. 'This can't be his bike,' I think, 'There's no way he could fit on a bike. He's too massive.' Still, they're getting closer and I've yet to say a word. 'Why would you emphasize the fuckin' in that question?' I wonder. The leader of the goons is now only about three feet away and I can see his veins bulging from his biceps and neck, they are clear right through his tight white T-shirt. I consider hopping on the bike and taking off; no deal though because the chain is still off.
I am in for the beating of my life. Maybe not even of my life, but the beating of someone else's life: someone who has been beaten plenty before and after this beating would still come out saying, "That was the beating of my life."
But damn I could use this bike.
God, I'm tired.
"Uh.." I say, then drop the bike and run hard.
Fortunately, my running skills far outweigh my bike theft skills and I make it down two alleys and across a street before the three guys can blink. They don't even give chase and I slow down to catch my breath. As I turn back for downtown, a smile creeps across my dirty face.
By the number of people on the streets it's late; but still too many people to be early. Drunks stumble, smile and flirt, in last-ditch efforts to pair up before the night dies. Pizza crusts litter everywhere and a granite garbage bin that had been knocked over is now rolled to a stop in the middle of this street.
I walk, remember the night; and I'm no longer cold or tired. Sweating slightly now, I'm wide awake, and happy I have more time before seven to wonder these streets again and, again, debate the ethics of bike theft.