Monday, January 24, 2011

Montreal-Toronto, July 2008

Adventure! What a word. It stirs within us a great feeling of excitement. The idea of breaking the routines we have by catapulting ourselves into something completely different. It's so appealing. How much we can learn by getting outside of the box, the comfort zone.. Nothing strikes down the cancer of apathy like looking beyond what is familiar. Exploration of the unknown is one of life's greatest thrills. May we always strive to live new experiences.

Such were my musings during the month of July 2008. My friend, Conor, and I were on the cusp of a great adventure across the geo-colossus that is Canada. I had spent 2 months in Montreal, walking the tightrope of life in a bilingual city.. A little dramatic perhaps.. The only real difficulty I had was trying to fit into my job where French speaking colleagues sounded so often to be bitching about even though I had no idea what they were actually saying. As much as we had come to settle (lots of 'settling') in to life in Montreal, we decided that we would see as much of it as possible.

Our first stop was Toronto. Not so unfamiliar, I had been there two years previous. This time though, I had timed our presence in correspondence with a gig that I really wanted to see. I couldn't wait! Better still, we were adventurously travelling the 5hr trip in a 'rideshare'. Being all progressive, I had arranged the 'ride' over the Internet with an anonymous man who would take us to Toronto if we contributed money for 'gas'. The plan was to meet him at Station Sherbrooke at 9am on a Sunday, July 27th. There, Patrick (prospect of conversation about his Irish name noted) would pick us up and we could share the ride all the way up Highway 401 to Toronto.

So it was on that bright summers morning, we hugged our neighbour Jake goodbye and started trekking down to Sherbrooke. The first snag on our great adventure was that Conor had to carry his very heavy bag after it's wheels jammed. Worried that we would miss our rendez-vous with our ride, I started pacing ahead to get there on time. Every now and again, I looked back at a blank faced Conor, who still managed to convey how annoying his bag was becoming. We did, however, succeed in getting there on time. At around 9.05 I might have commented on how annoying it was when people weren't on time. By 9.20 I was calling Patrick from a payphone. No answer. By 9.40, it was clear that the great adventure was struggling to get out of Montreal. 'Fuck sake Patrick, you said you'd let us ride with you'. We cursed the ambiguous rideshare system and resigned ourselves to the dreaded bus journey which took about 7hrs.

First impressions of Toronto were that we were in an English-speaking part of Canada, where stop signs said 'STOP' as opposed to 'ARRET' and where approaching strangers for directions didn't require the preamble of 'Parlez-Vous Anglais?'. That night we went to the gig that had I had spent the whole day trying to make it to. Even though Propagandhi rocked my socks off, I was too worn out to properly appreciate it. My abiding memory is watching revelers throwing themselves violently from the stage. I wondered where they got the energy. After spending the night in a hostel, we spent the next day roaming around 'downtown' Toronto. Highlights included pretending to take a sip of this junkie girl's drink after she kept offering us some. We were also accosted by a pretty young woman who told us that she had just had a fight with her boyfriend and who kept asking if she looked ok. 'Yeah, like fine'. In a hazy state of mind, we walked through Chinatown, repeatedly commenting on how it felt like we actually were in China.

That night we made contact with a friend I had made on my previous visit. She offered us her couches for the night. We were delighted to accept. She did mention that she had a cat that was a little crazy. Ever the animal lover, I brushed aside any suggestions that this cat would actually interfere with our sleep. 'It's a cat..How bad could it be?'

Bob introduced himself to us by making a spectacular jump from one couch to the other. 'Well he certainly is a livewire, but I'm sure he'll settle down once he tires himself out'. Emily looked at me doubtfully. 'If he's a pain in the ass, just throw him in the bathroom'.

Apprehensively, we turned off the lights and lay down for some much needed sleep. I hadn't even reached the relaxation stage when Bob started to set out his stall for the night. He began by performing several more jumps around the living room furniture. Conor and I made no comment. I was hoping that these leaps were Bob's bedtime routine, a closing expenditure of any energy he had left.

After an hour or two, it was clear that this was wishful thinking. Bob was now carrying out routine attacks on both of us. His black coat blended in with the dark and so it was without any warning when his paws traversed my face. Or when my hair was being fiddled with by a stealthy and erratic claw. Bob's madness grew as the night wore on. When he wasn't bothering me, I heard monotone expressions of frustration from Conor. 'Fucking cat', 'Get off!' 'Jesus Fucking Christ'. Enough was enough. I decided to act on Emily's advice and confine him to the bathroom.

I'm not sure how I actually got him into the bathroom. I doubt it was physical force. He wouldn't have liked that. Whatever the means, I did manage to secure his confinement. I closed the door and returned to my couch, feeling a little cruel for resorting to imprisoning him. It was his turf. Who were we to just turn up and expect him to give up his space? And then lock him up when he wasn't conforming to the standards we expect of a 'good little pussy'.

Bob's false imprisonment was abruptly ended when I could stand his sorrowful bellowing no more. The prospect of him destroying the bathroom was too daunting to consider. When, with Conor's support, I went to release him, I opened the door to find him dangling from the toilet roll holder with a look of defiance etched across his face. He made for his escape quickly, immediately returning to his armchair pulpit. As I passed him by, I begged for a cessation of his escapades. 'Please just go asleep Bob'.

Vindicated by his victory over my conscience, he resumed his frantic attacks against our pursuit of some kind of serenity. The whole situation was starting to look like a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the forces of occupation. Bob, the determined rebel, against us, the usurpers of his residency, in this little insignificant part of the world; Emily's sitting room.

The Ontario sunrise was now scantly illuminating the room. We grabbed whatever sleep we could in between Bob's regular attacks. At one stage, Conor and I sat up and looked across at each other. We shook our tired heads as Bob's wild eyes assessed our condition from his armchair. And then, with some sort of divine intervention, Bob lay down outstretched and closed his eyes. After a few more minutes it was clear that if we were going to get any kind of sleep, now was the time. Already jaded, I battled with my anxiety at the possibility of him waking up and finally fell into proper sleep. I awoke a few times to to look at Bob still sleeping. When, on one occasion, I saw that he had moved, I was joyfully surprised to see him curled up on the bottom of my sleeping bag. 'See Bob, we can do this, we can work something out..We don't have to fight'.

I woke properly a few hours later to see Bob proudly looking out of the apartment window at the Toronto skyline. I spoke to Conor to see if he was awake. He was. 'Got a few hours there at the end, did you?'. Conor turned around to reveal several scratch marks on his face and neck. It seemed that Bob's early morning tactics involved an aggressive targeting of him. 'We can't stay here again tonight...'. Before long, Emily was up and about. 'How did you guys sleep?'. 'Ah yeah, Bob gave us a few frights but fine yeah, we slept fine.' Emily went over to Bob to get his side of the story 'Were you being a pain in the ass Bob? Eh?'. Bob didn't respond. Emily then verbalised our thoughts whilst affectionately petting Bob and adopting that sort of 'baby talk' voice people put on when they talk to animals. 'You're a crazy fucker aren't you Bob? Eh..You've got issues..haven't you..' Bob turned away.

We had a few days left in Toronto. Emily offered us another night on her couches. We replied politely. 'Really? Thanks so much!'. It wasn't that we didn't appreciate the offer from someone who, after all, we didn't know that well, it was just that another battle with Bob was a scenario that we felt undesirable. I checked a few guest houses to see if I could stretch my 'adventure budget' to purchase a cosy room usually occupied by middle aged professionals on business trips. And that didn't have mentally unstable animals. But I was in over my head. Too expensive. Conor, ever the economical one, was steadfast. 'I'm not paying for a room! I can handle him'. I admired his bravery especially while looking at his wounds from the night before.

We returned to Emily and Bob's place that evening. This time I played with the little bastard for a while. It might have some effect. That night, Bob's attitude was a lot less hostile. We managed to get a lot more sleep even if we it was marred with weariness at Bob's presence. The next day we bade Bob goodbye and prepared for our departure to Vancouver. Our plans to 'hitch' across Canada had been shelved after the film RoachTrip ( left us unsure about the wisdom of such a feat. We hung out with Emily that day. She shared with us her disdain for the pretentiousness of climate-change awareness and her obsession with the American Civil War. We were sorry we didn't get to hang out some more with Emily. She was fun.

That night Conor and I separated. He went to avail of a late Couchsurfing offerwhilst I stayed in the Global Village Backpackers hostel. There, I made acquaintance with an English guy. Playing Pool, I inexplicably managed to pull off some majestic pockets. He was impressed. I was perplexed (I'm normally really shit at Pool). I had a few drinks with him. He started on about what drugs he had taken and how they had nearly killed him. He was kind of weird. And I just wanted to sleep. I left him with an Irish acquaintance I coincidentally ran into. (I've never really reflected on how big a coincidence it was to run into John. John Prendergast. From Kilkenny). He was with loads of Irish people. I had a drink with them. Then I left.

The next day I met back up with Conor.
'Well, how was your night?'.
'Great.. Your one was sound'.
'Good for you. I bet this English guy at pool'.
'Yeah right'
'I wonder how Bob is'.

As we packed up our stuff and prepared for the trip out to Pearson International, we ran into the pretty girl who had asked a few days earlier how he she looked. She still looked pretty good. The funny thing was that she didn't remember us at all. It was a weird end to a weird couple of days. It wasn't easy, but our great Canadian adventure was underway. Even if the romantic musings I had in Montreal had been destroyed by a guy named Patrick and cat named Bob.

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