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Saturday, 22 August 2015

Down And Out In Montreal


I am not totally proud of my participation in some of the events in the following story. It was a long time ago and I did a lot of things back then for various reasons that I wouldn’t have contemplated years later. As they say “It is what it is.” I think this is an interesting story about different times and that is why I wrote it.
Old Frat Houses and the McGill Student Ghetto in the Latter Part of the 1960s
I dropped out of West Hill High School in Montreal at the age of 17. I failed both grade 8 and grade 9. I was in grade 10 when I said goodbye to high school forever. I took a few university credits at what was then Sir George Williams University (now Concordia) at night but never took the exams. My guess is that many who knew me back then didn’t think I had a very bright future ahead of me.
Most of the work I found in the next close to 6 years in Montreal was clerical office work. I lied each time I went for an interview by telling the prospective employer that I had a high school diploma. Nobody ever asked me to produce it. None of these jobs lasted very long. Sometimes I would get fired. Other timers I just quit. The longest I ever stayed with one company was 9 months. One of the times I was fired was when my boss discovered I was doing a high school equivalency thing at night and not actually in my first year of Arts.
There were times between jobs when I was virtually homeless. I never slept outside or anything like that but I knew what being broke and hungry was like on several occasions. If I wanted to go somewhere I took a bus or hitchhiked. I didn’t own a car until I was about 25 which was a number of years after I left Montreal. I never had my own phone in all those years.
I spent most of the 6 years after high school living in the downtown area of Montreal close to the McGill campus. Back then it was called the “McGill Student Ghetto”. I stayed in several rooming houses and 4 different fraternity houses. There were periods that I stayed at my parent’s places in NDG and Valois. I also rented a few apartments in areas like Cote St. Luc, Snowden, and on a little street called Forest Hill off of Cote de Neige Road. I had to move out each time because I got behind in the rent.
My first introduction to living in downtown Montreal near McGill University was when I was 17 and sleeping on an air mattress at my brother’s bachelor apartment on Lorne Crescent. He got married and moved to The Town of Mount Royal. I moved into a rooming house across the street and quickly got behind on the rent. For a while I avoided the landlady by climbing up a tree to my room. That didn’t last long. I moved back home for several months.
The first office job I had in Montreal paid 40 bucks a week and the last office job I had in Montreal paid 70 bucks a week. I did a little better when I was working on the trains as a waiter and a whole lot better in the few months I worked on construction at Expo 67.
Unemployment insurance was pretty paltry back then and there was a waiting period of something like 6 weeks if one was fired or quit a job. When I was working there never was much left over after paying the rent and buying food.
I drifted further and further away from the friends I had known in high school and found myself living in a totally different kind of world than what I had been used to. High school dances and teenaged romances were a thing of the past.
Like most other guys who were my age at the time, one of my priorities in life was getting laid. I used to find it kind of amusing that a number of guys I knew couldn’t be up front about that subject when talking to their friends. It was pretty obvious that most guys who had a steady girlfriend were getting laid. I can’t think of anyone I knew back then who didn’t have premarital sex including a few who had a girlfriend and asked to borrow my apartment for a few hours and paid me for that opportunity.
For me meeting women meant going to bars that had a dance floor. It was always the easiest place to meet gals my own age. With the meager pay cheques I was receiving I really couldn’t afford spending time in bars but somehow I found a way. The reality was that I was often spending the rent money.
When I was 18 in 1965 and I discovered that I could have a pretty good time getting drunk at fraternity house parties. The beer was cheap, it cost about 50 cents to get in, and there were lots of women around. Usually a band was hired for the night. At the time I never pictured myself living in a frat house. I remember going to some dances at The McGill Student Union and the psychedelic light shows. I was still a few years away from smoking my first joint.
I frequented a small nightclub called The Café Andre (also known as “The Shrine”) just off of Sherbrooke Street for a few years. Folk music was morphing into folk rock at the time. A trio that later became a quartet when they went from acoustic to electric called The Raftsmen were the nightly entertainment. I think the 4th guy was named Jake and was from NYC. When they folded their tents folksinger Penny Lang became the main attraction at the The Café Andre. I remember seeing a folksinger named Bruce Murdoch really wasted on drugs outside of a folkie club called The Seven Steps one night.
When I first started living downtown more permanently it was in rooming houses. Usually the bathroom was down the hall. The room usually had an old bed, a chest of drawers, a sink and a hot plate, and some kind of lamp. These places always smelled kind of musty. One room I had looked like a truck had come though the wall and the patch up looked like a five foot bulge. I could go on but I’m no Dostoyevsky. Let’s just say these were pretty bleak places.
One day I spotted a “for rent” sign in the window of the Delta Upsilon fraternity house on McTavish Street. I had been to a few parties there previously. I think I was collecting unemployment insurance at the time (also known as “The Pogey” or “unemployment enjoyment” back then.) The rent was something like 45 bucks a month and I moved in. It was the summer of 66’.
I just kind of hung out for the first month or so. Some guy paid me a few bucks to move his Dodge Valiant around in the parking lot behind the house while he was away. It had push button gears. I had never driven a car before. It was around this time that I ran into some old high school friends in a night club. One guy said he remembered me stealing cars. Stealing cars? I couldn’t drive one never mind stealing one. Just for the record stealing a car has never ever crossed my mind.
I also learned through the grapevine that a girl I knew when I was in high school who went to a private school had had an abortion after a fling with one of the brothers at the frat house. A few of the frat brothers and I recognized one another from my days at Westmount High. The only time any brothers were around the house that summer was for the parties that occurred about once a month. The frat house was raided during one of those parties and I was taken away with some others for under aged drinking. I picked up a Royal Vic nursing student in that paddy wagon and messed around with her for a few weeks.
A middle aged lady came to the house every day to make dinner. There were quarters above the kitchen for her but she went home each night. I discovered that this was a great spot if I wanted to be alone with a gal for a while and not have to worry about a roommate walking in.
I remember a big German guy who was staying in the house that summer. Every night he would raid the fridge and swill down 3 raw eggs in a glass. He introduced me to the fine art of fried bologna and cheese sandwiches. There should have been a lock on that fridge.
A group of grown men moved into the frat house. They were from Winnipeg and worked for a company called Daley Display who owned the contract to do the interiors of the Western Canada Pavilion at Expo 67. One night at dinner the boss asked me if I was interested in working for them as a labourer. I was thrilled.
The job turned out to be a lot more than I had bargained for. 10 hours a day and 5 hours on Saturday was pretty fatiguing. The money was great, more than I would ever make at any other job I had in Montreal. $2.52 an hour times 55 hours equals a gross pay of $138.60 a week. With rent of about 45 bucks a month I had a lot of extra cash and hit the bars 2 or 3 times a week. I started running out of gas. I was burning the candle at both ends.
I knew that the Daley Display group would have to move out at the end of the summer when the frat boys returned for school and I just assumed I would move with them, wherever that was. By this time the boss had pretty well figured out that I wasn’t much of an asset and he let me go. That nice pay cheque was gone, I no longer had a job, and I was going to have to do some scrambling to find a place to live. I moved into a nearby tourist lodge and went through the last of my cash.
I started to hang out at The McGill Student Union in the daytime. Sometimes I would play the card game Hearts for hours with some of the students. Eventually when I thought they were comfortable with me I would ask them if there was any chance of me crashing on their floor for a night or two. I remember one guy named Larry who was from Lake George, New York. He had an apartment and put me up for a few nights. I ran into him about 20 years later in an office in Richmond, BC. He had become the western regional manager for an American wood pulp digester manufacturer.
One night I found myself crashing on someone’s floor in a rooming house in the McGill Student Ghetto. (The borders of the so called ghetto were on the west side from University Street (next to the McGill campus) to Park Avenue on the east side and from Pine Avenue on the north side (near Molson Stadium) to Sherbrooke Street on the south side.) I wasn’t the only guy crashed out on the floor that night, there were a few others stretched out. I recognized one guy I had seen around town who dressed and looked like Ringo Starr. I’m not sure if it was him or another guy who had shaved a cross in his chest hair.
I got to know the crash pad host a bit. He was very frail and had very bad eyesight. His dad worked for the CIA in the US. He had a friend who was from the same city just outside of Washington, DC. Falls Church, Virginia I believe. His friend’s name was Alex Hicks and he was in his first year at McGill and living at the student residences up near the Royal Victoria Hospital. I think Alex’s and my friendship was formed because I was the local guy who could give him the skinny on Montreal.
I crashed in Alex’s room at the residences for a few nights and convinced a few others to let me do the same. The few others were kind of on the nerdy side but I didn’t care as long as I had a place to sleep. One night I was on a bus with them and ran into a gal who I had dated a few years before. I can’t recall her exact words but she in essence asked me why I was hanging out with these goofs.
Alex had a Jewish friend named Danny who also lived at the residence. I think he was from Buffalo, New York. Danny’s girlfriend’s dad owned or managed a high rise hotel at the corner of University Street and Sherbrooke. Danny pretty well ate all of his meals at the hotel. I convinced him to give me his password number for meals at the residence cafeteria. My logic was that he was paying for the meals but not eating them so why not let me, the down on his luck guy, enjoy them?
I ate in the cafeteria for a few weeks. Word got around that I wasn’t a student and I was reported to the powers that be. The cops were called and I was taken down to the Number 10 police station and placed in a cell. I could have just taken off before the cops came but I thought that being arrested might be an interesting adventure.  I spent the afternoon in the can.
The cops didn’t think the whole thing was a very serious matter and asked me if there was anyone they could call to straighten things out. I gave them Danny’s phone number and they quickly released me after talking to him. There’s no question that I had no right to be at the residence but I wasn’t actually stealing meals.
 

 
Alex moved out of the residences and into a frat house. I can’t recall the name of it, The Deke House? He had a big room and let me crash in it for a few weeks. It soon became fairly obvious that I wasn’t a friend staying for a few days. Alex also had an Egyptian friend whose name was Onni or something like that. He had very light fingers. I remember seeing him wearing Alex’s sleeveless sweater as an undershirt and I’m pretty sure he swiped my Western Canada Pavilion hard hat.
Some of the frat brothers had a meeting and decided that it wasn’t a good idea for me being almost a permanent guest in Alex’s room. I was offered an empty room in the basement rent free. I think it was where coal was stored at one time. It was windowless and dank and dark. I lived in that room for 3-4 months. I slept a lot and often didn’t know whether it was day or night. I had hit rock bottom. I can’t remember how I managed to get food to eat, probably from bringing empty beer bottles in for the refunds.
Life seemed pretty futile to me at the time but fortunately for me I have never been one to be prone to depression. Suicide never crossed my mind. In some ways it seemed like I was stuck in a dream and I would eventually wake up.
The frat house had at one time been a 3 story mansion. Most likely it was built in the early years of the 20th century. I think it was about March of 67 that I learned that the house was going to be demolished. I was going to have to find another place to live and some kind of job. I had to try and find a way to pull myself together.
I scoured the job ads in the local newspapers. Expo 67 was just about to open and pretty well most university students wanted in on that action. The Expo 67 jobs were long gone at this point. I spotted an ad that was looking for waiters to work on the CN passenger trains for the summer. In other years the waiter’s jobs would have been snapped up by university students. I made the phone call and was totally surprised when I was told to report to the train yard and begin training the following day.
I had to do some quick scrambling. I managed to find some black pants and a white shirt that I would need for the waiters job. Shoes were going to be a problem. By this time most of the guys who lived in the house had moved out. I found a pair of abandoned shoes that fit me but they were brown. I got a hold of some black shoe polish and rectified that problem.
Alex went home to Virginia for the summer and I never saw him again. A year or two ago I got in touch with him via e-mail. He became a professor and teaches at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. While trying to track him down I checked out the student ratings on him. That was interesting. He told me that he still stays in touch with his old friend Danny from McGill.
I went from almost starving in the basement of the frat house to eating for free while working on the trains. I remember getting heartburn from drinking too much orange juice and not being that fond of prime rib after eating too much of it.
I moved into the Sigma Chi fraternity house in May of 1967. The summer was a real whirlwind and I was out of town about half of the time. My roommate for most of the summer was a guy from Nova Scotia who was a few years older. He had a summer job working for some big company that his family had connections to. Mostly what I remember about him is that he wore the same camel hair sports jacket every day, drank a lot, and used more aftershave than he needed to.
 

 
I became friends with two guys from Western University who lived across the hall. One of them had a bed that was supported by bricks. As a joke one night I used a book to try and knock one of the bricks out. It was his book and I damaged it and had to buy him a new one. The title of the book was “The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism”. Funny what we can remember?
The Nova Scotia guy moved out towards the end of the summer and was replaced by a German guy named Steffan Grossmanheinzel (or something close to that). His English was limited but I did get him to teach me some German swear words like “schweinhund”.
I moved out of the Sigma Chi house at the end of the summer and rented a room on Hutchison Street. For a few months I had a girlfriend that lived a few blocks away with a gal roommate. She was from Ste. Therese. A drinking buddy of mine who went to Westmount High when I did went out with the roommate.
I was still working on the trains when I came up with the idea of traveling to Australia. My plan was to take the train to Vancouver and work my way across the Pacific on a cargo ship. I got a passport and in February of 68 I left Montreal for Vancouver. My girlfriend held a small party for me the night before I left.
The trip out west turned into a fiasco. There was no way I could get hired to work on ship that was leaving Vancouver, all of the ships were foreign owned. I ended up totally broke and living in a rooming house in Vancouver’s west end. Broke in Montreal, broke in Vancouver. I remember the long walks to the main post office on West Georgia Street each day only to be very disappointed that my UI cheque hadn’t turned up.
Whatever the UI cheque amounted to it wasn’t much. I spent part of the money shipping a trunk back to my parent’s place outside of Montreal. I think I bought a 35 cent brick of ice cream. I hit the road hitchhiking with a plan of thumbing my way back to Montreal across the US. Most of whatever money I had left was spent on a motel room in White Rock, BC when I got caught in a bad rainstorm. I stayed in 4 jails overnight in places like Fruitland, Oregon, Vernal, Utah, Scottsbluff, Nebraska and Livonia, Michigan. I also stayed at 2 frat houses, one in Denver, Coloarado, and One in Iowa City, Iowa. I told them I was a brother from McGill.
While I was away my old Westmount High School buddy set a friend of his up with my old girlfriend. I knew his friend and oddly enough we both looked alike and sometimes I would be mistaken for him. It didn’t take her long to find someone else which seemed contrary to the letters I was getting from her. In fact ,while I was gone she had moved on from my friend’s buddy. I’m pretty sure I spotted her years later in Vancouver wearing a fur coat.
My Westmount High friend and I liked to drink in the basement of the Berkley Hotel on Sherbrooke Street. This was another spot where I had been taken away in a paddy wagon from there one night a few years earlier for under aged drinking. One night we were shooting the breeze and decided to become roommates. He was living at home at the time. We found a 1 bedroom apartment on Forest Hill Avenue off of Cote de Neige Road. My bed was in the living room and doubled as a couch. This arrangement lasted about 6 months before the roommate moved out. I ran into him years later in Richmond, BC. He and his wife bought a townhouse three units away from the one my ex and I owned. They didn’t have any kids. I suggested that we go for a beer and when he told me he would have to check with his wife I let it slide. We mostly just nodded after that.
There was no way I could afford the apartment by myself. I had a job but it didn’t pay much. I was going to have do another “midnight move”. I ran into a guy I knew from my days at West Hill High School. His name was Gilles Schipper and he owned a car. Somehow I convinced him to let me jam some of my furniture and my personal effects into his car and drive me out to my parent’s place in Valois where I would store the stuff in their basement. It was pretty nice thing for him to do. A few years later I ran into him on a visit to Montreal. We were both pretty shit faced outside of The Winston Churchill Pub in Montreal. He seemed kind of pissed off at me about something at the time.
One night, before I moved out of the apartment, I was in a place called Your Father’s Mustache. I ran into a British gal named Vivian and started messing around with her. She had a basement apartment in the Snowden area of Montreal not far from where I grew up. We were asleep one night when we awoke to a crashing noise. It turned out that it was her ex-boyfriend, a Scandinavian guy, and he was trying to climb in the window he had broken. He challenged me to go outside and fight him. He was pretty drunk.
I got my clothes on and went outside. He took his shirt off and it was obvious that he was well muscled. This didn’t look good for me. We circled each other. I hit him with one punch and then took off running. Vivian was a pain in the ass and we split up a few weeks later. About a month later I was back at Your Father’s Mustache and saw the Scandinavian guy coming towards me. I thought for sure that I was in for a severe beating. To my surprise he sat down next to me and bought me a beer. We both agreed that Vivian was a real bitch and shook hands. I was very lucky that night.
I stayed at my parent’s house in Valois for most of that summer. I got a job at the Simpson’s department store at Fairview shopping Center in Pointe Claire. The job didn’t last long because I had shoplifted something (a red ascot) from a department store (Eaton’s) when I was 15 years old and department stores shared their records.
I became friends with an East Indian guy who worked at Simpson’s. His name was Gil Bushe. His parent’s owned a beauty salon in the Fairview Mall. I went fishing on Lac St. Louis once with Gil and some other guys from the store and came home with severe sunburn. I would hang out with Gil now and then for the next couple of years.
Living in my parent’s house was a temporary thing. They were retired. There was no way I could bring some gal back there. Plus Valois was far away from downtown Montreal. I would often hitchhike into the city. One day I got a lift from a guy who was about 30 years old. I recognized him from some local TV commercials. Somehow in the ½ hour drive into town he managed to tell me that he swung both ways. Really, thanks for sharing? Another time I got a lift from a CJAD disk jockey named Dave Patrick. Apparently he played the tambourine in John Lennon’s hotel room at The Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal when John and Yoko sang “Give Peace a Chance”. Dave told me that when he was young he hitchhiked with an empty gas can with his clothes in it. I only chatted with him for ½ an hour but it was obvious that he was quite a character. He died several years ago.
In the fall of 1969 I moved into another fraternity house, one that was a few buildings down from the top of University Street. I can’t recall the name of it but I lived there for almost a year. Back then not a lot of first year university students were interested in joining fraternities. Frat boys weren’t exactly counter culture and that was the general theme at most university campuses at the time. This left some empty rooms in frat houses and they were open to renting to young people like me as long as we weren’t hippies or derelicts.
I got to know a few of the guys on the same floor as me. I was the only one in the house not going to McGill. At the end of the hall lived a guy named Pete who was from from Sioux Ste. Marie, Ontario. I think his tuition and boarding was paid for by an insurance settlement. He was working as an armed guard on a Brinks truck back home and they got held up and he was shot in the foot. He was a nice guy and would let me use his hot plate to make grilled cheese sandwiches.
Next to his room lived a German guy named Klaus. Klaus was a bit of a libertine. He converted his room into a hippie pad complete with rice lamps hanging from the ceiling. He introduced me to pot. I got stoned about 3 times with him. I can still picture him with his flowing blond hair and his fleece and suede coat with the collar pulled up. Klaus had a girlfriend whose parents lived on a lakeside property in Point Claire. There was an old saw mill on the property. I drove out there with Klaus once and he brought back some leather strapping and spilt logs that he made into tables and other things.
One evening I was lying in my bed in my room recovering from a molar removal. Two floors down some guy started playing the bag pipes. A rich frat guy from Chicago who lived on another floor started screaming about the noise. I told him his screaming was just as bad as the bagpipes. He didn’t like that comment and came to my room. I told him to screw off. He didn’t like that either. The next thing I knew he was in my room threatening to punch me out. We got into a scuffle and we ended up on the floor in my closet and I had him in a headlock. He tried to grab my nuts so I stuck a finger in his eye and gave it a tug. There was blood everywhere.
The rich frat boy called the cops. Two of them turned up. The frat boy wanted to charge me with assault and battery. He dropped some police officer’s name he knew like that was going to influence them. The cops weren’t buying any of it. It was pretty simple. What was he doing in my room? When I say the guy was rich…..his girlfriend lived in Toronto and her dad was the CEO of a distillery. Some weekends he would visit his girlfriend in Toronto using their private jet. I was surprised I wasn’t thrown out of the frat house because of that altercation.
Frat houses aren’t always the most sanitary places. One day I discovered that I had crabs. I found some rubbing alcohol in the bathroom and thought I might be able to kill them with that. Big mistake! Man did that ever hurt! I went up to the out patients department at the Royal Vic Hospital and they gave me a prescription for something called “Blue Ointment”. That was my first and last encounter with any kind of “social disease”.
If my memory serves me correctly I think I was collecting UI for the first few months in the house. I remember taking empty beer bottles in to small market close by and using the money to buy things like bread and peanut butter.
Sometimes late in the afternoon I would play bridge at the house with a few of the frat boys. Usually I think it was because they needed a fourth. Whatever I learned about the game back then has long been forgotten.
Somehow I managed to scrape enough money together (probably when my UI cheque came in) to go out to a bar now and then. This may have been my “French Canadian Girls” period. I went out with a number of them. One gal had a fur coat. She later became a university professor. Years later I ran into her in Banff when she was at a conference and spent some time with her. I told another Freanch gal that I was a writer to kind of cover up my meager existence. I asked her if she could find a girlfriend to bring up to my room with her but she couldn’t. I remember standing on a ramp at the metro station and waving goodbye to her for what I knew was the last time. I could be a bit of a prick at times.
Then there was this gorgeous red head that lived just around the corner from the frat house in a university building with her dad and sister. I can’t recall how I met her. She invited me over to her place a few times when her dad wasn't home. One night I was headed over to see her and walked by a frat party that was going on in a house next to the one I was living in. Some drunk from the party, an out of towner, decided he wanted to fight a complete stranger and picked me out. We both got some pretty good shots in but one of his almost broke my nose, an upper cut. I went back to my place for repairs. About a ½ hour later the doorbell rang and it was the red head. A few hours later I was walking her back to her place and the drunk I had had the fight with spotted me. He wanted a round two. Fortunately his friends stepped in and dragged him away.
I also went out with French Canadian girl with an English first and last name. There are some. I met her in a bar at La Ronde (the amusement park for Expo 67) one night. I had been involved briefly with her roommate a few years before. I ran into her a few years later in a nightclub in Montreal on a weekend trip from Toronto where I was then living. A few months later I phoned her to invite her to Toronto but she had met another English speaking guy and they were getting married. (Those damned English guys).
Who knew that being an English speaking young guy in Montreal could be exotic to some French Canadian gals? They certainly weren’t after my money or a ride in the fancy car I didn’t own.
I got an office job working for a machine manufacturing company in St. Laurent. I had to take about 4 buses to get there and had to leave home in the dark. The place was owned by a German guy and two brothers who I think were Hungarian. Most of the workers were Greek. I worked out a deal with the Greeks where they would good me a lift back and forth to work for a sum. 6 of us were packed in the car and I can still remember gold teeth shining in the dark.
My job title was “procurement clerk” and by all accounts I performed well. When the summer came around I went on vacation to the US with my old friend Gil Bushe from Simpson’s at Fairview Shopping Center. We went down to Maine and as far south as Boston. Gil had a Mustang with a crack in the wind shield. I remember brushing my teeth in a stream at Mount Desert Island in Maine, being at a real dive of a bar on the Boston waterfront, and Gil meeting up with his former girlfriend who was Jewish in some seaside town. Gil liked to step on the accelerator and there were a few times I thought the cracked wind shield might cave in. One night we were going through the mountains in western Massachusetts and the car behind us was using us a guide with their lights shining in our back window. Gil sped up and went around a few corners losing the car behind us for a few moments. He then turned the car headlights off for a moment and then back on. This must have freaked out the car behind us a wee bit.
When we got back to Montreal I found out that I no longer had a job. Cost cutting was their reason. What assholes! I had spent any money I had on the vacation and now I was now broke and out of a job.
By this time there were only 3 of us living in this huge house, me, a guy named Nick Popenk who played football for the University of Toronto and had a summer job in Montreal, and the only remaining frat brother, a guy named Bill who was from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Bill was into folk and Cajun music and would sometimes sing songs with a black guy at the nearby Yellow Door Coffee House.  He soon went home for the summer and gave me the key to the house.
Del facto I was now in charge of the house. There was nobody in authority to contact in case of an emergency and nobody ever dropped by to check on the house that summer. It didn’t take me long to figure out how I could exploit this situation. There were a whole lot of empty rooms in the house and I could make some decent cash by renting them. Who would be the wiser? I got a hold of a red marking pen and made a large sign that I put in the front bay window, “ROOMS FOR RENT”.
Updated University Street frat house photo 2012.
I think I charged about 10 dollars a night. A lot of strange people stayed at that frat house that summer. A big black guy from NYC with 2 fat blonde girlfriends stayed for a week. He swiped an extra mattress from another room so they could all be more comfortable. I rented to an Asian woman who got behind on her rent and was never seen. I crawled in through her window to see what was going on and found some scales and a big bag of pot. For some reason I didn’t help myself and she and her pot disappeared shortly after.
I rented to a guy I knew from Westmount High. His name was Pat Rue and at WHS he wore a Black Watch sports jacket like I did. He had morphed into a Charlie Manson look alike. For some strange reason he slept on a mattress on top of a couple of bureaus. He moved out about the same time my passport went missing.
A group of American guys stayed for several days partying. When they left I discovered that they had left some raw hamburger in a bureau drawer. That was a really gross thing to clean up. Two guys from Sweden figured out that that I really didn’t have any authority in the house and refused to pay rent.
I was making some fairly decent cash out of this deal. Sometimes I would show the guests around town, particularly the night spots. It was a fun summer. Often in the daytime I would go up on the roof and lie out in the sun greased up with Bain de Soleil.  Sometimes we would cook up hamburgers and the Hibachi. Who knew back then that eating medium rare hamburgers was a bad idea?
A lot of frat houses have secret rooms where they hold meetings and do initiations. There was one in this frat house and I was determined to find it. The doorway to the room was inside a closet on the top floor. I found a varied selection of booze in the secret room and moved a lot of it down to my room for…..safe keeping.
If I wasn’t out nightclubbing at night I was listening to Expo’s baseball on the radio. The team won 52 games and lost 110 that year. 1.2 million people watched them at tiny Jarry Park. The Expos were stacked with older players and other team’s rejects like Bob Bailey, Bobby Wine, Maury Wills, Mack Jones, Coco Laboy, Dick Radatz, Claude Raymond, Elroy Face, and Mudcat Grant. They had some decent young pitchers in Steve Renko, Carl Morton, and Bill Stoneman. The Expo’s big star at the time was newly acquired Rusty Staub. Next to Jackie Robinson Rusty Staub was the biggest thing to ever happen in baseball in Montreal.
One night several guys from another fraternity turned up at the front door and told me they were there to claim something they believed had been stolen from them during the previous school year. Some kind of frat boy prank I guess. They were led by a guy named Mullins whose sister I knew vaguely from grade school and high school. They left when they realized I was going to fight the first guy who tried to get into the house.
The doorbell didn’t work at the frat house and one afternoon I heard someone knocking on the front door. I was taken aback. It was a guy named Mike Disney who I had met the year before while hitchhiking in Nebraska. He had obtained my address from my folks by phoning them. He was driving a VW van. It was neat to see him and I told him to park his van in back of the house as there was no parking on University Street. A few moments later there was another knock on the door. It was Mike again. Apparently he had not put his emergency brake on and his van slid down the street damaging 3 cars and his van.
Mike stayed for about a week or so. One day he came home with two hippie chicks from Ottawa, one for him and one for me. Mike got a hold of a blowtorch to fix the damage on his van and make it drivable. The only problem was that there was a hole in the floor by the front seats. My guess is he saw a lot of pavement on his way back to Nebraska.
I met a Jewish girl from Philadelphia one night in a nightclub. Her name was June. She and her girlfriend were staying at The Holiday Inn on Sherbrooke Street. We had a thing going on for about a week. She told me that her roommate wanted to get laid and asked me if I had a friend who might be interested. Her girlfriend was good looking. I called up my old pal Gil Bushe but he was tied up with something. Oddly enough there was a guy staying at the frat house from Philadelphia. I told him he was pretty well guaranteed a sure thing with the roommate. As things turned out, they hated one another.
From the beginning of the summer to the end of the summer there was only one person other than me who stayed at the house during that whole time, Nick the football player from the U of T. He had a girlfriend back home and was loyal to her so he never took part in my skirt chasing escapades. Nick and I would sometimes walk over to the nearby McTavish Reservoir in the evenings and throw the football around for hours. A caretaker kicked us off once. It was a weird place to toss a ball around. There were a number of mushroom looking metal things that stuck out of the ground in places. I had visions of falling through the grass and firetrucks coming to fish me out of the reservoir below.
One morning Nick left the house to go to work and discovered that his motorcycle that had been chained to fence near the front door had been stolen. It was his prized possession. He was pretty pissed off. I can't recall if his insurance company reimbursed him.
I knew this lifestyle couldn’t go on forever. The boys would be coming back to school at the end of August and I didn’t want to explain what had gone on in the summer.
A guy I knew from high school invited me over for dinner one night a block away from the elementary school I had gone to in NDG. He told me about a friend who was making pretty decent money working at pulp mill in Edson or Hinton in northern Alberta. I gave the keys of the house to Nick about a week later, packed my duffle bag and hit the road for Alberta thumbing lifts across the country. Nick paid part of his university tuition that fall by renting out rooms at the frat house for the remainder of the summer.
One of the lifts out west was from a guy from Toronto who was going to UBC in Vancouver. I think his name was Len. He worked some evenings at the Vancouver version of Your Father’s Mustache. I think it was located where the Bentall Buildings 1. 2 and 3 now stand on Burrard Street. Some gal was paying Len for a lift out to Vancouver and he couldn’t stand her. He wanted to dump her out at the side of the road. Len was also a Delta Upsilon frat brother at UBC. My lift with him lasted a couple of days and we parted company in Calgary. I headed north to Edmonton while Len and the gal continued on to Vancouver.
I got a room at the Edmonton YMCA and hung around with a young British guy for a week or two who was also between jobs. I had my mail forwarded to Edmonton general delivery. I received a letter from the guy in Edson (or Hinton) telling me that there wasn’t any work available at the mill. Bummer! I had to rethink my plans.
While I was in Edmonton I called up a frat guy I knew from Montreal and he took me to see Yippie Abbie Hoffman at The Edmonton Field House. Hoffman was a pretty big deal at the time. Suffering from depression he committed suicide some years later at the age of 52. So they say?
I can’t recall how found myself out at the Delta Upsilon frat house at the U of A in Edmonton. I told them I was a brother visiting from Montreal and was welcomed with open arms. I even played inter-mural touch football with them. This only lasted for 3-4 days. One of the brothers, a suspicious one, demanded that I show them “the secret hand shake”. I was toast.
You may be wondering why I am writing about staying in other parts of Canada when this story is supposed to be about being down and out in Montreal? It’s the frat house connection.
I hit the road again and left Edmonton for Vancouver. I looked up the Len guy who had driven me across a good part of Canada about 6 weeks earlier. I crashed at the Delta Upsilon frat house where Len was a brother for a few days. I witnessed a bit of a riot at the student union building not far away. one day This was my final stay at a fraternity house. I think I pretty well milked that deal for all it was worth.
It was now late September or early October. I hitchhiked back east with plans of returning to Montreal. I stopped in Toronto and gave an old high school pal a call. I ended up moving in with him and another high school friend for the best part of a year and a half. I looked up my friend Nick Popenk who was at the U of T. We had lunch at a Swiss Chalet and I never saw him again.
Over the next several years I spent time in Banff and Jasper. I worked in pulp mills in Kamloops and Port Alberni. I lived in Victoria and Calgary for short periods. I was 29 before I settled into a career in Vancouver in outside sales. I guess I went through the school of hard knocks in my twenties. It didn’t kill me.
The guy from Baton Rouge, Louisiana from the frat house on University Street in Montreal stayed in Canada and became bilingual. He turned his hobby of playing guitar and singing into a lifelong career in music including Cajun music and writing and singing children’s songs in French and English. I think he is also involved with square dancing too. I talked to him a few times on Facebook. It seems like he is the only liberal in his family.
And just for the record. I never cared much for most of the frat boys I met. A lot of them seemed to feel they were entitled in life. I may have been a bit of a drifter back in my twenties but I was never as bent as some in fraternities I’ve read about in the past 40 years.

2 comments:

  1. Love your stories buddy. You have an amazing memory by the way! As a guy born in 1980 in Montreal, I find your perspective and experiences in a Montreal I never knew to be priceless. How fascinating also that you kept running into people you had met in other parts of the country... small world indeed.

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  2. Thanks for the compliments Denis. Running into people in strange places.....years ago (1982?) I was sitting in a pub ( the pub has been closed for years) in a place called Vesuvius on Salt Spring Island near Victoria, BC with my former father in law who was from a small town in Saskatchewan called Gull Lake. A guy came over to our table and said "How are you doing Marshall?" He was from Gull Lake. It blew me away.

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