When Evan left the Saskatchewan prairies for Montreal he settled in the borough known as Le Plateau-Mont-Royal. Despite bearing a similar geographical namesake the Plateau couldn’t have been more unlike home, making it all the more appealing.
When incoming settlers first populated western Canada, they consumed ridiculously large plots of farmland, stretching out as far as they could to make the most of the vast emptiness. In contrast, the Plateau was the most densely populated neighbourhood in all of Canada, making it the perfect place for Evan to hide.
Cruising down the St. Laurent strip, Evan was never accosted for his embarrassing lack of French. This was doubly important as Evan was cursed with a Franco-surname – Lefebvre – that made him susceptible to demands in a native tongue he never bothered to master. Similarly, there were enough local slummy bars for Evan to haunt without having to be seen at the same place twice – ideal for a budding young alcoholic on the go.
Tucked between the Latin Quarter, Little Italy, East Island and the Jewish part of Mile End, the Plateau acted as a middle-ground between hipster and Hasid, mobster and McGill. Boasting a wild mélange of inhabitants, the Plateau was a fucked up buffer for all kinds of creeps, weirdos and sketchbags to filter through. Where else could you run across an ex-lover at a 24 hour poutine joint, an old roommate at a couples-only erotic movie theatre or a long-lost cousin at a sketchy dépanneur?
This was exactly the reason Evan typically chose to stay cooped up in his tiny two-and-a-half apartment, a flat so narrow that he could touch three of the four walls with outstretched arms and a foot.
Even worse, there was an unreasonable amount of ex-prairie kids trolling through the arrondissement – exactly the sort of people Evan had come to Montreal to avoid. Life is always made easier when you circumvent the past, and Evan’s history wasn’t something he wanted to revisit anytime soon.
Back home, Evan had committed one of the most heinous sins ever: he had punched a woman.
In the face.
But there are always two sides to every story and the punch in question was subject to about 20 different opinions, each more boozy than the last.
In Evan’s defense the woman had actually demanded that he do it, she punched him first and they were now sort of friends. But either way, upon hearing Evan’s misdeed, most people conjectured that he be publically tarred and feathered, castrated or at least put in jail. And, having taken an informal poll of the situation, everyone agreed that Evan probably should have just run away instead of delivering the misconstrued knockout blow. Only a painfully small minority actually agreed with his actions, which was Evan himself.
Unfortunately no one, Evan’s friends included, took any of these factors into consideration. Evan became a social pariah and, either to avoid inciting further violence or acting on what he should have done in the first place, ran away to Montreal.
And Montreal was exactly the kind of city that Evan deserved. Or maybe it was the other way around. There were pregnant strippers to catcall, 4 am dance parties that ended with cheap brunch, illegal pop-up noodle cafes, flower shops that doubled as secret liquor stores and round-the-clock gang-related fire bombings.
But despite the cauldron of sin, Evan was miserable. He couldn’t find a job or a way to stand out from the swarms of hipster migrants who were taking the sweetest restaurant and retail jobs.
As if working for minimum wage wasn’t depressing enough.
Worse, economic feasibility notwithstanding, his reputation actually preceded him. Enemies started popping out of nowhere, ragging on him for an alleged punch they knew nothing about. Even the coke dealers had it out for him. When I arrived for an indefinite visit, Evan was a nervous wreck, an angry hermit and stunningly sober.
“Fuck Montreal,” screamed Evan, his nerves visibly frayed. “I’m going to kill one of these cunts, I fucking swear it.”
“Maybe you should do something a little less drastic, like moving out of the Plateau?” I suggested. The thought of Evan, my new roommate and misogynist benefactor, being arrested and leaving me with the lease wasn’t something I had counted on. But Evan just shook his head.
Unfortunately the St. Henri ‘hood wasn’t an option. Members of an Anglo punk gang were rumoured to be stalking him. Evan tip-toed to the window and gingered lifted the curtain aside with a pinkie finger. The scene looked too much like a bad movie – I started laughing.
“Fuck it,” I said. “I’m on vacation. Lets get drunk.”
“I thought you were here to start a band and get a job?” asked Evan.
“Dude, it’s Montreal. Who the fuck is working?”
Evan thought about this for a moment. “Good point,” he said. “Let’s drink.”
Tellingly, Evan was too frazzled to go outside. I ducked out to the corner dépanneur, which sold cans of Pabst for a dollar each and came with individual paper bags. Cute, but we were going to need at least a case for the evening. Of course dépanneur was from the French verb dépanner, meaning “to help out of difficulty” or “troubleshoot”, which was sort of why I was in Montreal to begin with. Despite his criminal lack of socialization, the bad haircut and the perpetual odour of take-out, Evan’s problems had compounded with the fact that he was now depressed and living in a culture where you were expected to sell yourself as awesome – or at least make a living hustling someone.
I decided to get a bottle of whiskey to augment the beer. I reasoned that attempting to commit a greater sin with Evan might snap him out of his funk. If nothing else we could at least remove the stubborn cloud of being a girl-puncher that hung so firmly over his head with something more odious.
This was Montreal, the Canadian host to hockey riots, terrorism, separatist politics and old school mafia assassinations.
It would take a miracle for anyone to notice our sins.