It was after midnight, I was tired, and all I wanted was to heat up the bowl of leftover perogies I had waiting for me in the fridge. Instead I stood at the door to my apartment as my neighbour stood at his, eagerly trying to convince me to “share your Internet, buddy.”
He’d called me buddy. That wasn’t a good start to the pitch. I don’t find buddy to be an endearing term; I think its true purpose is in condescension, a placeholder noun for drunks, and a way to ease “marks” who are about to get ripped off—“Buddy, do you really think we’d sell you a Zune that didn’t work?” He told me about his cousin who had recently moved into his place and how much he loved the Internet. The same weary-eyed cousin who every day would bring all of his earthly belongings from their apartment to the shade of the tree in front of our building. There he’d set up a sad bazaar and attempt to sell, for a reasonable price, the pieces that formed his material life. Eventually he even got a clothing rack that held what I assumed was every swatch he owned that wasn’t on his body.
Because we were neighbours and he loved his cousin he was willing to give me ten dollars a month to share my Internet. He suggested we could just string a cable from my router, out my balcony door, and into his kitchen window. It would be that easy. I waited for him to crack—“Just fuckin’ with you, buddy!” But he didn’t and just stood there, swaying like a tetherball stuck in its final revolution around the pole. Did he really not know about Wi-Fi? I said I’d think about it and went inside.
For days I dreaded running into him. Saying no wouldn’t even be the hard part. I pride myself on my creative kyboshing—I’d love to but my mom and I have our weekly Law and Order: SVU Skype date tonight—it was the after, the post-no unknown that worried me. I hardly knew the man but had heard his temper banging and clattering through the walls numerous times before. What if he turned on me, and his unibrow, which was so thick that even his cousin could have used it as a knick-knack rack at the bazaar, folded like an accordion in rage?
That was probably a bit of an extreme hypothetical, mind you. It was actually a pretty innocent request. I’m sure his eyebrow would have stayed level and he would’ve accepted my refusal politely. Neighbourly. I was probably not being neighbourly by denying him. I mean, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, I could just give him my Wi-Fi password and pocket an easy ten bucks a month. That’s two tall cans and change to spare. There’s always the risk that his cousin is one of those people who for some inexplicable reason downloads porn instead of streaming it, which could potentially tie up my bandwidth, but that’s not the end of the world. That’s something I could lay out in a few ground rules beforehand. Perhaps give him a list of preferred sites to visit—a top ten. I could probably even spice up the deal: one of his cousin’s paisley button-ups a month on top of those ten big ones.
I saw his cousin a few times in the days following our midnight encounter. He’d been fanning himself with an old whodunnit as he stood behind the small folding table that acted as his storefront. He looked uncomfortable. Shifty. Like his underwear was riding. I felt for him. I couldn’t tell if I was feeling pity or shame. This middle-aged man had fallen to the point of living on his cousin’s couch, had to resort to selling the physical remnants of his life to survive, and I couldn’t even see past myself to let him have access to an online relief. The Internet was now a basic human right according to the U.N. and I was depriving him of it. I was a tyrant. A twenty-something despot. I waved to him as I walked by, holding my open hand up and out for a little too long before realizing what I was doing and quickly pulling it back in. He gave me a slight nod and looked to the ground. Eye contact wasn’t allowed with the supreme leader.
A couple of days later I came across his table set up a few blocks away on a grassy patch across the street from the SkyTrain station. The landlord must have had a talk with him—I imagine it would be tough to convince him it was still a casual weekend yard sale on a Wednesday. The shirt rack still didn’t have a dent in it. The clashing patterns of the fabrics were like one of those Magic Eye stereograms. I unfocused my vision to find the hidden image—a dachshund with glasses?
“See anything you like, buddy?” It wasn’t a dachshund. The cousin pulled a grip of shirts off the rack and held them out at his sides.
“What size are you?”
“Huh? Medium? You look like large. No offense.”
“No, I mean, uh, I was just looking.”
“Ah, okay. Have a good day then, buddy.” His eyes fell to his feet again. I felt like Kim Jong-un on a factory tour, just stopping in to make sure the people I was stripping of their rights and freedoms were making the lubiest of lube possible.
There was in fact a limit to how much sushi I could eat. The limit was a lot and I reached it like a triathlete with shin splints falling over the finish line. My body picketed the gluttonous amount of tuna, yam, and avocado bubbling inside of me. Hey-ho, we won’t go!
At the front door to my building, standing between me and taking my internal protesters to porcelain court, was my neighbour. It had been over a week since I’d seen him and I had forgotten about his offer, his eyebrow, and his cousin who loved the Internet. I had to make my decision right there and the answer came quickly: I would say yes, I would share my Internet. I would grant his cousin the ability to get lost in ’90s nostalgia listicles and to buy peanut butter online.
His eyebrow rose like a church steeple as he opened the door. I readied my response.
“Do you live here?” He stepped in front of the entrance, protecting our building from me. I didn’t know what to say. I was fully prepared to accept this offer made to me by a man, my neighbour, who now apparently had no idea who I was.
“Yes. I do.” With a grunt he continued on inside and I followed him up the three flights of stairs and down the hallway to our apartment doors where we’d talked only days earlier. He looked at me briefly before going in, deadbolt locking with a clunk. That was it. He didn’t mention his cousin or the cable from my window to his. He said nothing. His eyebrow didn’t so much as quiver. I opened my laptop. Its video streaming was quick, its web pages were loading with unparalleled speed, my bandwidth was high, and that’s the way it would stay. »
from subTerrain #72