Granted, I've only been on speaking terms with him for the past month or so, but I'm starting to think my neighbour in the apartment here might just be the world's most interesting man.
I first got to know him one Saturday afternoon this spring, when Fitz, Tamoobs and myself stopped in at my place to grab a thing or two before heading out to (or was it back from?) the park. We were a beer or two in and Collective Soul-voice (which is the precursor to the Creed voice, which in turn spawned the Nickelback voice. Did the Metallica voice start all of this?) singing a few of their mid-1990s classics. We'd seen my neighbour on our way in and we did the perfunctory head nod. He lives above the street on the main floor and spends a lot of his time on his balcony.
On our way out of my place, Fitz is singing "...hu-what's the hu-world I-hi hu-know..." and my neighbour pokes his head out his door. We get outside and I'm talking about my stationary non-stationary bike and my myriad problems keeping the tire filled (yes, I've changed the tube multiple times and ground down the rim edges where the hole was.) My neighbour starts asking me about the bike and gives me his bike pump and tools and doo-hickeys galore, suggesting likely problems, and pointing out other issues on my bike, like he's inspected it multiple times. I should say, my neighbour is, I'd venture, in his late-50s or early 60s, and he speaks French with a thick Eastern European accent. He lends me all sorts of gear and I tell him, well, I'm kind of busy now, but I'll give it a fix tomorrow. He says he'll give me a hand and then he tells me, in French, "you know, I grew up 30 minutes from Dracula."
I laugh, but he's one of those guys that doesn't know when he says something funny - or else, he doesn't dispense with the laughs very easily. I tell him that's interesting, but we have to go. And we go and I thank Fitzy for singing.
I forget to get home to get a new tire for the next day and I don't see him for a while. When I do, we talk about my bike. He doesn't understand why I haven't fixed it yet. I can't give him a legitimate answer other than, I work, I play baseball, I hang out with my girlfriend and friends and... He shrugs and gives me more advice. He says he needs his bike to get to his girlfriend's place. "Ma blonde," he calls her in his accent. It sounds more like "moh blond." He says there is a guy - likely some enemy who has a crush on his girlfriend - who he knows has punctured his tires twice with a pin when he stays over at her place for the night. He is sympathizing with my plight. I appreciate that.
The next time I see him, he tosses me a new brake line for my back tire and gives me more advice. It's a Sunday afternoon and it's hot as hell and I go out equipped with a cold Corona, but inadequate tools to replace the brake line and it's humid and it's not happening. The tube in the tire is shot to hell again. Here I thought I'd remedied the problem after discovering two brand new tires lying on Sherbrooke the night before. My neighbour is watching me from his balcony the whole time. I can feel his eyes on me, but for some reason, I can't ask him for help. Once I find out that he's gone inside, I slink back in with my tire in my hand and drop it on the floor. My apartment now looks like the Yellowknife dump - ripe for scavenging. There is junk everywhere. Coolers, tents, bike parts, bed shrapnel, Christmas lights and a Christmas tree...
I go to my computer to watch a video on bike repair and my buzzer rings. I answer it and go to my door and there is my neighbour, dressed in his biker shorts and jogger's t-shirt, with a bike skeleton in his hand.
"Where did you get this?"
He was on his way to visit his 'blonde' when he saw a bike - minus its front tire - in an alley. He brought it back and was offering it to me. I laughed and grabbed it and added it to the collection. He said I could use his bike pump whenever. His son would be up.
I didn't fix the damn bike, though. I went to sleep, sprawled on top of my blanket in my undies with my fan billowing warm air onto me. The next night, I got home late and ran to the supermarket to get a frozen pizza and I walked by his apartment and could hear lively accordion coming from inside. I walked to where he wouldn't be able to see me - partly ashamed at still not having fixed my tire - and listened for a while. It sounded really good.
Tonight, I got home with some more takeout food and I saw him on his balcony, as usual. I asked him about the accordion and he said it had been him playing. He said his father was very good and that he had been taught the instrument when he was young. He plays now for fun. Of course, my French isn't the greatest, and his accent is one that I'm not used to, so I'm not entirely sure of all that he said, but the guy seems like he is full of stories.
His father died five years ago in Romania and left him a lot, including that accordion. Now this is where I can't tell you exactly what he was saying, but apparently, his home country wouldn't send him the accordion for some official reason. But he has a friend who is a judge and he got a special exemption from this rule and received the accordion.
He said he used to work in aerospace before he got sick. He said he's been in Montreal for 19 years and has never left the region - he has stayed within the area from "St. Hubert to Mirabel." He said he feels like an exile. He's only been home once since he left. Yet he has family here and different visitors all the time. He speaks a bunch of languages with these visitors. (Allegedly) he's got a more robust sex life than most of my friends, despite being old enough to be their grandfather in some cases.
I've talked to him a half dozen times and he's told me he comes from Dracula's land, he plays an accordion in the dark, he feels my bike pain and his tiny apartment is seemingly a storage space for bicycle-related gadgets and gizmos.
I told him we should have a beer on his balcony sometime. I want to confirm my suspicion that he might be the most interesting man in the world. He's definitely the most interesting person in this apartment.
Judging by where I woke up Sunday morning, it didn't figure to be a productive day.
After a Friday evening, where I imbibed a tad too liberally, I woke up in full-hermit mode Saturday afternoon and shunned invitations to pick up beds and watch fireworks, in favor of trudging down Papineau to Ontario to find some kind of nourishment before visiting my girlfriend's cat, which I said I'd do last week.
I found a delicious Portuguese bakery and, with corned beef sandwich, cheesecake and Coca-Cola in tow, I marched toward my destination, to visit a cat that had been meowing at passerbys at her window since being left to herself Thursday evening. When I arrived, the grey-black enigma, which has so far treated me in a very hot-and-cold fashion, followed me around like my shadow as I dumped some kitty chow into her bowl and blew my allergies into a kleenex in the bathroom and then turned the lights on. I laid down and started into my sammy, sharing pieces of beef with the culinarily curious kitty. I opened a book, stared at the words for five minutes, before opting for some Planet Earth. After the Future disc, I went to Great Plains and, after that, the Pole to Pole one and then Caves. I could hear the fireworks, but I didn't want to think about them or anything. I wanted to marvel at the world's greatest and most inspiring creations, while simultaneously retreating from them inside a small, black apartment with a cat that just wanted to lay next to something. (It's debatable whether I did more for the cat than it did for me.)
Nine hours of Planet Earth later: I woke up crusty-eyed (no allergy pills) and hacking, nearly fully-clothed (always too hot to wear a t-shirt inside here in the summer) sometime around dawn, on an improvised duvet, not meant for sleeping on. I laid there, reluctantly coming to terms with the upcoming day, debating whether I should turn off the Planet Earth menu, which ended up playing on a 15-second loop for probably about three hours. (At one point, I had each of the 18 shots memorized in sequence. These are things I probably shouldn't be telling anyone.)
After a day where I literally laid on a couch with a cat, I couldn't fathom how I'd be able to muster the energy to do all the things I had to do - ie. haul a bed frame home at noon, fix my bike tire... and that's it. That's the state I was in.
When the menu had driven me to my breaking point, I got up, turned it off, gave the cat one last pet and one last treat, threw on my shirt and hoofed it home. From there, I received a call from the Fitz, asking when I'd be by to pick up the bed frame. I called my buddy Jones and he said he'd be there at noon. I started off. I got there. We taped up the bed. Jones arrived and we hauled it painstakingly from West of St. Laurent, down Sherbrooke, to my place East of Park Lafontaine, to the amusement of nearly everyone we passed. That's how I roll. Stubbornly.
I was tired, but I felt good, knocking something so important off my list of ever-expanding things to do. Hey, it only took me 8 months to acquire a bed!
We called up Heee-Ren and went up to a Vegan spot to eat some lunch. (Who does this Herbiberous think he is? Don't worry, it gets better.) On our way up there, I spy a garage sale of sorts and say, hey boys, we should go check out what they've got.
Turns out these kids are selling a record player. "How much?"
"Oh everything's cheap. Five bucks?"
"It works?" I asked, shocked.
"Yeah, I think it just needs a new needle."
Sold. I look over and beside the turntable, they've got a stack of records. Sgt. Peppers, Dark Side of the Moon, James Bond themes....
"How much for the records?"
"Cheap. 50 cents each," the chick says.
I look at the boys and we start to laugh. Score.
We throw her $15 and now I own a record player with a burgeoning record collection.
(Aside: If you're keeping track at home, this now means that I'm a fixed-speed bike and smoking habit away from becoming a fully functioning Hipster. Actually, I also need an ironic moustache, since part of my hermitude on Saturday morning had me shaving off my faux-handlebar nose-neighbour in disgust. I'm clean-shaven for the first time since before St. Patricks day. A girl at work called me "little boy" today.)
So, how's that for productive? We have a healthy lunch (for a change.) I had a vegan BLT, with the bacon substituted for bacon-smoked coconut chips. If you're through Montreal, check this place out - Aux Vivres. You eat these huge wraps and the food just floats inside you. You don't feel heavy at all.
With the boys heading off to baseball, I decide to try for a trifecta of sorts: let's get this damned bike fixed.
So I walk all the way from Mont Royal and St. Laurent to the Canadian Tire in Hochelaga. By this time, the chafe has set in. My inner thighs are like two slightly moist pieces of rubber rubbing against each other. My balls are sandpaper. I'm in pain. But I press on. I've been walking all day. I get to Canadian Tire finally at five after 5 p.m. and, somehow, on a Sunday, the store is closed. Shake of the head. Wag of the finger. Tears for the ballsack.
Oh well. I get home and have a rest and wait for Fitz to call, as he's got some more stuff for me. Eventually, he rings back at around 10 p.m. and I set out again and, after a glass of vino and a semi-goodbye, I'm back out the door with a electrical fan in my right hand, a plant in my left and a bookbag packed with various knick-knacks that I may never need.
I got home last night and dropped the new apartment accoutrement on the floor and I barely recognized my place. It reminded me of that skit in the Simpsons were Homer takes advantage of Flanders' financial troubles and buys all his furniture from him at a bargain-basement price and then he's sitting around outside, watching TV, drinking beers and BBQ-ing with Flanders' stuff. I'm living in the Casa del Fitzy, right now.
This whole episode taught me that life is all about balance. Well, balance for normal people. And for me too, in a way, in that I'll probably always wind up at some median level of ambition, energy, etc., but that I ride the peaks and valleys hard... and with a vengeance.
Sadly though, this story also illustrates that Montreal has lost another hero in the gradual, but seemingly endless exodus of great folks from the city. Fitzy and Tameens, I'll see you guys in July, but I've had a grand old time getting to know you guys over the last year or so. I'll tell you that in a much more intimate and slurred way this time next month.