The wisdom of Nick – the way of a song

His name was Nick and he had a face that by nature fit the stub end of a Churchill cigar. One of those broad round faces with thick features atop a largely absent neck.

All through the months—now this would be close to the mid 70’s, and while living at the Somass Motel in Port Alberni, not far from pulp and paper mill and it’s fulvous blanket, smelling of sulphur and rancid butter—I never saw him without a cigar-butt clamped in the fleshy vice at the corner of his mouth.

The length of the cigar was always the same, about an inch and a half. Smouldering, never out, never fully lit. The sweep of smoke, almost imperceptible, the wet-leather-in-abandoned-barn scent, unmistakable—and the stub, wondrously fuelled, perhaps from the inside of Nick himself, was everlasting.

Well, except for once every two weeks, when he came to collect rent. The Saturday morning after payday he would show up at the door wearing a laundered t-shirt that nevertheless displayed the spittle stains of ages, and, behold, a new cigar, lip-embedded and freshly lit.

It was the one day Nick appeared agreeable. Even to proving his fidelity to our comfort, you know, now that we were paid up. To this end, he would come by and display a foot long Norway rat, holding it up by its whip-like tail; caught, he would say, in a distant suite, and assuring us of his constant vigilance to keep the rodents under control.

We complained once: we had gone to Vancouver for the weekend—a Greatful Dead concert—and upon returning discovered, where once there was a loaf of bread, only bits of clear plastic, and much rat shit. His response to our scorn, was, “You can’t have everything.”

And of course it’s true. You can’t.

…always have everything you want.
But you’d think, when it comes
to the absence of rats in motel suites,
particularly those with small kitchens,
one has moved to the category of need.

And isn’t this the way songs are born?


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