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.