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Monday, 21 May 2012

The Great Grocery Store Robbery

It was the beginning of the summer of 1969 and I was living in a fraternity house at the top of University Street near McGill University in Montreal. It was prime time for hippies and joining an established fraternity was not high on the list of the things to do for the rebellious or nonconformists. The frat house I was living in only rushed one brother that year I think. Pretty well all of the residents were students who had found a cheap place to live. Once exams were done most went home to places across Canada and throughout the US.

The fraternity house on University St. 2012
During the school year a cook came in to make meals for the boarders. By the beginning of the summer the cook was long gone and there were just two or three people left staying in the house. One of those two or three was a guy from Louisiana who was a brother. He was into folk singing and Cajun music and occasionally got a gig at the nearby coffee house, The Yellow Door. Sometimes he performed as part of a duo with a black guy. Not your typical southerner in 1969.
Before going any further, I should say that I was in contact with this guy a few years ago via the internet. I kind of think that he would just as soon forget the story I am about to tell but I am going to tell it anyway. What somebody did about 45 years ago, short of murder, shouldn’t really matter at this point. Most of us did some wild things when we were younger.
The southern guy and his girlfriend and I were sitting at the dining table in a large room when the plot was first suggested to me. The girlfriend worked at a large supermarket in downtown Montreal. They had already devised a plan and had selected me as the one that could bring it to fruition. Maybe they thought I was more disposable if we got caught and that was why the southern guy chose me instead of himself to be an integral part of the caper.
The plot was simple. I was to go down to the supermarket and select some choice cuts of meat like roasts and chickens, stuff them in a cart with some other needed items, and then take them through the cash area where the girlfriend who worked as a cashier would not punch the more costly meats in.
I can’t say that I wasn’t nervous at all when the day came to do the deed. I loaded up about 6 large pieces of meat and headed for the girlfriend’s cash station. Our eyes met and we tried to act as normal as we could. It would just be minutes before I was out of there and on my way home. Not so fast. A woman was standing at the end of the check-out counter. “Excuse me sir. Can I talk to you for a moment?” I thought my….goose was cooked.
“I see that you have purchased some Coffee-Mate. If you can give me the right answer for a mathematical riddle we will give you 25 dollars.” It took a moment for me to digest what she was saying. I’m robbing the place and someone wants to give me 25 bucks on the way out? Wow! It was one of those addition, subtraction, multiply and division things. I checked my answer twice at least. And then I was given some nice crisp bills. I didn’t share my winnings.
We dined well for the next week or so. I can’t recall how the southern guy liked his meat cooked.
A few weeks later the southern guy headed home to Louisiana and handed me the keys to the house. I was laid off after returning from vacation from my job as a purchasing clerk and needed some kind of income. I was a bit pissed about losing the job but I wasn’t going to miss getting up in the dark and the drive to work with a car full of Greek guys with bad breath and shiny gold teeth. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that I was alone in a big empty house. I got a hold of a marking pen and put up a large “Rooms For Rent” sign in the front window.
I did alright that summer. I rented rooms to people from all over the US and Europe. I found out where the secret room was in the house and where the liquor supply was stashed. I never thought I was really stealing in that I was keeping the house tidy and had no agreement with anybody. No one connected to the house ever dropped by. It was like the place had been abandoned. OK. Maybe I shouldn’t have helped myself to the liquor.
If I wasn’t out nightclubbing or showing tourists about I was sharing cocktails in my room or listening to Expo’s baseball. I remember the posters I had on the wall in my room. One was kind of pink and orange and was an advertisement for The Endless Summer surfing movie. Another one was a blown up Life Magazine front cover with a bearded Ernest Hemingway.

In August I decided to hit the road and head out to the west coast again. I handed over the keys to a guy who was at the University of Toronto but working in Montreal for the summer. Part of his following year’s tuition was paid by his renting rooms that August. His justification was that his motorcycle had been stolen while chained to  a fence outside the frat house.

My justification was that I was never that fussy about frat boys.

Here are some pics I took around Montreal in 1969.
Eaton's and Morgan's on Ste. Catherine Street
Mountain Street
St. Hubert Bar-B-Q delivery car
The System movie theatre on Ste. Catherine Street
Sleigh ride on Mount Royal
Mountain Street
Sherbrooke Street

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