55 rue Guilbault Ouest

My friend Brian Nation has a picture on his blog of his old apartment on 55 rue Guilbault Ouest in Montreal. Its a lovely piece about the times he had in this place in the early sixties. This is what it looks like today. The Trotsky House is still across the street, and there are some slick condos at the end toward St. Urbain, but this place has been supplanted by a parking lot for some third rate apartment on Pine Ave. C’est la vie.

In the summer of 1963, after being tossed out of l’Ecole des Beaux Arts, I decided to hitch-hike out west and hang out with Richard Wilson in Vancouver. He had a summer job at UBC illustrating artifacts for the Department of Anthropology and had invited me out there to stay with him. He had a dorm room on the campus and I had to sleep on the floor but after a few days this had turned into quite a drag. He was upset about Harvey sleeping with his girl friend, Serena while he was in Vancouver and every night as I lay on the floor, he would talk my head off about what he was going to do to him when he got back to Montreal.

Sam arrived just in time and introduced me to an acquaintance by the name of Peter who had a place in Kitsilano. We all crashed there for a few days but I always got the impression that Peter did not like me very much. He was a cold sort of fellow with a mock British accent with all the aloofness that went with it. After I few days I split for San Francisco for a few weeks and hung out on Market Street, North Beach and absorbed all the life and energy (or so I thought at the time) that would ever turn on a 20 year old naive Jewish putz who was away from home for the first time in his life. One day it was time to go back to Vancouver and eventually home to Montreal. On the bus back to Vancouver, all I could think about was Richard yakking my ear off all night about what he was going to do to Harvey when he got back. I couldn’t stand it. I gathered all my courage and called Peter and asked if he could put me up for one more night. He hemmed and hawed and stuttered and made grimaces with his face but eventually caved in and said “all right, just one night and that’s it.” I felt like such a schmuck. He did not say a word to me that evening, pretending to study and avoid eye contact at all costs. Just before going to bed he suddenly spoke.

“I have some books that are almost overdue at the library downtown.” he said pointing to a stack of 7 or 8 large coffee table sized books on the floor. “Perhaps you might as well drop them off for me since it is on the way to the train station.”

“I am leaving at 6:00 AM” I said. “The library will not be open.”

“I am sure they have a return box somewhere.” he said. as he turned off the light and went to sleep.

The next morning I gathered up my stuff, together with his books and thanked him for his “hospitality” and split. When I arrived at the library I looked and looked but there was no return slot. I thought of leaving the books at the entrance but that did not seem to be a good plan so I took the books with me to the train station. I rented one of those lockers with the yellow key in it that won’t come out until you shove a quarter in the slot and put the books inside.

“I will mail him the fucken key when I get back” I thought.

Four days later I was back in Montreal. Brian was living at 55 rue Guilbault and I went over to see him. Harvey was there. I told Harvey about what Richard had been raving about in Vancouver but all he did was take a joint out of his pocket, light it, take a long draw, hold his breath, exhale and hand it to me.

“Try this.” he wheezed

When I had left Montreal, 4 weeks earlier, non of us were smoking weed but a lot had happened in my absence. So there it was, at 55 rue Guilbault, that I smoked my first joint. Harvey and I spent the rest of the summer at Brian’s listening to records, smoking dope, and watching the parade that passed through his door. Everybody who I would ever know or hang out with for the next 5 years, I met that summer. Sam eventually showed up around the end of August and Harvey and I introduced him to the demon weed.

“Peter is really pissed off at you.” he laughed. as he sucked in a bit of smoke.

“The library is really hounding him about those overdue books. What did you do with them?” I told him about there being no deposit slot and leaving him in one of those lockers with the yellow key that won’t come out unless you put a quarter in.

“So where is the key” he asked.

“Right here ” I said taking my wallet out of my pocket. ” I just remembered about it.”
We all cracked up laughing as Harvey rolled another joint.

A few weeks later, Willy and I rented a place on Evans Street but that is another story.

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