Blab April 2002
Published Apr 01, 2002Vancouver is supposed to be a lark for me, but it ends up being more like a raven. A big, black menacing raven like the stuffed one that perches ominously upon the glass cabinet full of Imperial Prussian war helmets in the apartment where I'm billeted. Funny how a trip that is supposed to be playful and casual can turn into somebody's idea of a nightmare. I'm flown to Vancouver to participate in the second annual art happening called Red 8, organised by my fwiend Fwedewick, a multimedia event with installations, projections, and live performance that is designed to break all the rules of established art practice. But the problem with shattering all the rules is that sometimes there's very little there to keep you from walking over and staring straight down into the great, yawning black abyss. I suppose it's necessary to step up to the precipice every once and a while and take a peek, but it sure ain't much fun.
Things start out deceptively upbeat. There's a party in my honour at the bizarre, pre-Nazi apartment, followed by the obligatory visit to the Dufferin Tavern, the dive-y gay bar where crystal-tweaking hustlers dance their odd striptease with complete contempt for the musical beat. Afterwards Fwedewick and I venture to an after-hours club where speed is the order of every day. There are only a few people in this huge warehouse space, which is crammed full of the flotsam and jetsam of the streets and alleyways of the city. One fellow whom I share a pipe with tells me the story of how he spent several years as the bouncer at a strip club frequented by the Yakuza in Tokyo. There seems to be a lot of Chinese and Japanese Mafia connections in Vancouver, because I've heard these stories here before. He also tells me a disturbing, implausible tale of meeting at a party an eight year old girl in high heels and a cowboy hat who just got back from Vegas, but at this point in history anything seems horribly possible. If JonBenet were alive today, she would probably be living in Vancouver.
I make the huge, empirical mistake of smoking too much speed, the dodgiest of drugs, which inevitably turns me into the ultimate sex pig-bottom of all time. Equally unfortunate is the decision to top off the night at the local bathhouse, where I descend into a maelstrom of blow-jobs and poppers. So tweaked am I, in fact, that I burn my nose on the horribly corrosive liquid, effectively disfiguring me for the remainder of my trip. It's one of those embarrassing homosexual moments that makes you want to seek out electro-convulsive aversion therapy.
The next afternoon, I'm awakened by a strange voice. It seems to be coming from the life-size wooden figure in the turban and Arabic costume who stands across the room proffering a pair of white gloves. He's like a dime-store Indian, except in the form of some manservant of the British colonial Indian era, straight out of The Lives of a Bengal Lancer. He's telling me that it's time to get up for the Pig Farm excursion. It turns out to be the voice of my host on the intercom, who informs me that after only about an hour of sleep, Fwedewick and our friend Sebastian are there to drag me out of bed and take me to the dreaded location.
It's not accidental that my trip turns out so malevolently. Since my visit last year, Vancouver has revealed its dark side to the world in spades. First there was the brutal bludgeoning with baseball bats of a gay man who was found naked and bloody in Stanley Park, a crime, inevitably compared to the Matthew Sheppard case, which remains unsolved. Then, a month ago, there was the revelation of the Pig Farm, a location where the bodies of several women were unearthed, leading to speculation that up to 150 prostitutes from the east side may have fallen victim to a serial killer or killers over the past ten to 15 years. Naturally the police were lax in their investigation because the women who have been disappearing, many of them First Nations, many of them ravaged by drugs and HIV, were regarded as transient and disposable and not worth caring about.
The owners of the pig farm, which is located in a suburb of Vancouver called Port Coquitlam, are a couple of brothers named Pickton who are apparently upstanding members of the community, regularly hob-nobbing with police and local politicians at various functions. The brothers used to have parties on their property, dubbed "The Piggy Palace." The evidence points to one of the brothers in particular, who had been charged with attempted murder of a prostitute in the past. Now he's been charged with two counts of homicide. But wait, it gets more bizarre. One victim claims that she was abducted by the pig farmer and witnessed him slaughtering and skinning a prostitute as if she were a pig. Horror stories are now proliferating, like the theory that the remains of the prostitutes cannot be found because they were fed to the pigs. Shades of Hannibal. It is also well known that the brothers were selling sausages to local stores and restaurants. Shades of Soylent Green.
Add to this that the new premier of British Columbia, Liberal Gordon Campbell, is pulling a Mike Harris, cutting funds for social services and education and giving tax breaks to the wealthy while unemployment in the province soars, and you can see why Vancouver is turning into the nightmare capital of Canada. Plus, to add insult to injury, they just lost their NBA franchise.
Fwedewick and Sebastian and I expect to find the pig farm well before dark, but it turns out to be more difficult than we expected. We drive around for several hours as the day dissolves into black night, stopping at a variety of gas stations and Tim Horton's to ask directions to the felonious farm. Everyone is suspicious of our motives, but I think it's important to visit the sites of human atrocities, to confront evil head-on. That's why I did the Jeffrey Dahmer tour in Milwaukee, and made the trek to Auschwitz when I was in Poland.
We're lost again, so this time we drive onto the campus of Simon Fraser University and pull up to a bus stop where about 15 people are waiting. Fwedewick rolls down the window and asks loudly, "Hey, does anybody know how to get to the Pig Farm?" Everyone starts to move away slowly, looking down at their feet. Finally a couple of jocks in the parking lot who are a bit too familiar with the details of the case offer us precise directions to our destination.
When we finally reach the Pig Palace, it's a cold and black, starless night, although a big orange full moon hangs just above the horizon. We expect the farm to be on an isolated dirt road, but instead it is directly adjacent to a suburban landscape that could be anywhere in North America strip malls, a gas station, a McDonald's, a couple of roadhouse taverns, a Home Depot-type warehouse. We turn onto Dominion Road and inch past the Pig Farm, which seems to be comprised simply of a small house and barn, an abandoned Winnebago, a couple of run-down vehicles, and big piles of dirt everywhere from recent digging. There are also ominous rows of wooden boxes piled up. As we pass the house, we see the trailer the police have set up, and a couple of cop cars. A uniformed cop and a civilian glare at us as we pass by. We turn around and crawl past again, then pull over into the parking lot of a mall to digest what we've seen. Fwedewick, who is part Native, is communing with the dead spirits, but Sebastian and I are getting freaked out so we drive off.
While searching for the farm we were very light-hearted, cracking jokes and having fun, but afterwards we're a little freaked out. I've also heard that some of the prostitutes may have been taken on freighters as sex slaves and dumped at sea. It's pretty terrifying. Nevertheless, the show must go on. Red 8 has been sub-titled "Infinity Crisis vs. The Pig Farm Follies," so we have a lot to live up or down to. Unfortunately, the models that Fwedewick has provided me with for my live porno shoot aren't quite up to snuff, absolutely no pun intended. One in particular, a hustler named Melanoma, is a bit too reminiscent of the whole Deliverance theme that seems to have been cropping up all week. The idea is to shoot him with a hard-on wearing the American Flag, and then fucking a blow up cow replete with vagina that we found in a Granville Street porn store (they didn't have any pigs). But unfortunately he can't get it up, even with Fwedewick fwuffing him and screaming, "C'mon, get it hard! Get it hard right now!" Finally I get Sebastian to pour a bucket of fake blood on him, Carrie-style, but whoever made the concoction has neglected to put in the red food colouring, so when he pours it on Melanoma he's like a seagull caught in an oil slick. It's so oily and slippery that he loses his balance and falls right on his tailbone. It's a disaster, but the kids seem to like it. It's that painful kind of performance art that veers unintentionally but inexorably into exploitation and offensiveness, which I suppose is appropriate for the Pig Farm Follies, but which is what I've spent my whole career as a "pornographer" trying to avoid. Oh well. Pig shit happens.
The rest of the show is pretty good, particularly the performance artist Sharon Needles doing Raggedy Anne Drag to "It's a Hard Knock Life" from Annie, and Fwedewick getting an infinity symbol branded on his ass. But somehow, in the current climate of venal Vancouver, home of the Pig Palace, it's all a little too close to home.