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January 17 - Special 1 Week Batch
When I first moved back to Montreal, I lived in a basement flat on Clark Street and practically lived at the Mazurka on Prince Arthur street. There, you could get a meal--soup, main dish, and coffee--for $3.25. The restaurant was long and narrow and dark and in tiers, and the further in you went the closer together the tables and the stronger the smell of boiled cabbage. On Friday nights in particular, my girlfriends and I, all of us romantic in that 20-year-old sort of way, would gather to eat and discuss our lovesick hearts.
Next to the Mazurka was the neighbourhood bar, Jean's. Jean had been a nurse, and there was a picture of her in her little white hat and starched uniform on the ledge behind the counter. The jukebox had a little TV above it, and for an extra 25 cents you could get a video to go with your song. The favourite play was "Brown Sugar," which had a black go-go dancer with bouncy boobs. The Christmas decorations were festooned behind the counter, in front of the mirror, all year round. I was there pursuing my crush, a maudlin Irishman.
March 1971: I walked through a blizzard from my parents' house to the McGill Student Union for an art video conference--this well before video was a household word. The lobby was a lake of melted snow, and upstairs in the Ballroom was a steamy and pungent jungle of proto-video artists and TVs and reel-to-reel video recorders. That night I found myself walking up downtown Sherbrooke Street, which was completely traffic-free under two feet of snow. There were about ten of us, arms linked, marching abreast, shouting, Capitalism is Dead! The streets belong to the people!
In my early teens, I used to sneak off after school and go downtown to Dialogue, a drop-in centre run by the Unitarian Church. It was a storefront with a room in the back, unremittingly and fluorescently bright, with chairs and tables, a perpetual coffee pot, and several chess boards. It was usually populated by various misfits: tall, redheaded chess fiend Lorne, dramatic Irish would-be poet Cliff, wistful and beautiful American deserter Will, pining after the young wife he had left in the States. I was besotted with Will, who never spoke, and sought after by verbose Cliff.
Until I was fifteen and finally was allowed to stay home alone on weekends, I was dragged up to the country house for winter weekends. My parents shared a place with another couple who had three children: the eldest, Kenny the hockey star; the youngest, Nina the over-achiever; and Jason, the ne'er-do-well middle child, with whom I hung out. On the coldest of Saturday nights, after the hockey game was over, we would sneak out and smoke cigarettes and talk trash. Jason went on to drop out of high school and take up poker for a living.
Friday nights, around 10, we would repair up the stairs to the Bar St-Laurent for some loud and dark--to take turns playing space pinball and polishing our dancing chops to Talking Heads and the Cars and Blondie, and the Sex Pistols and the Stranglers. Somehow, gyrating at the pinball machine and gyrating on the dance floor were almost indistinguishable. When the bar closed, at 3 a.m., we would roll on downstairs and next door to the Main, the all-night deli that served the best banana cake ever--a recipe that disappeared when the owners got divorced.
When I was thirteen, my best friend's father had season tickets to the Forum in the red seats. Janet and I got to go several times a year. We would settle ourselves in our hard red fold-up seats just ten rows up from centre ice, and prepare for an evening of glorious hockey. To the bemusement of our neighbours in the expensive seats, we cheered using duck calls that we had acquired (I don't remember where) and jumped up to cheer hysterically when the Habs scored, the red seats snapping up like clamshells, with a clatter, as we stood.
The Tip Jar