The first thing I did when I arrived in Montreal was have a beer with Gilles. Gilles is a 71-year-old Quebecois legend, capable of the mightiest string of French and English curse words. We share a stick and poke tattoo. His knee has deteriorated over the years, but his stubbornness to go to the doctor for it has not, so he calls the depanneur to get beer delivered to the third floor apartment that he rarely leaves anymore. He has gained weight because of his reduced mobility and his steady beer-calorie intake, and he has also grown a goatee. Whether the goatee was inspired by the gained weight remains unknown.
The doorbell rings, Gilles sticks his head out the hallway and buzzes the delivery man up. He hauls two thin plastic bags up the interior flight of stairs—two Molson Dry 7.1% Quebecois beer in each bag, massive 40 ounce bottles that could kill a man with either the weight of the glass or the liquid they contain. Gilles tips the man, who also brought him lottery tickets, grabs me a glass from the freezer, and joins me seated at the table.
“Cheers, man.” I take a few glugs of the gold liquid, frosty and malty, leaving warm breath like a shot of whisky. He takes the massive bottle in two hands, lifts it as thought it was a baby bottle, and drinks half of it without tears forming in his eyes, without putting the bottle down, without looking anywhere but the ceiling as the bottle tips back almost upside-down. I leave his apartment at 1900h, drunk and giddy, chewing on the dozens of stories he offered up after almost two years of being apart. His first tricycle. The drug bust across the street. His broad array of jobs. Expo67. The making of war weapons at the RCA building across the way. His homemade 360 degree rotation security camera. Homemade photographic darkrooms. Stolen/borrowed bicycles from the bike shop. Many repeat stories I’ve heard several times, some new ones that further surprise me.
In many ways he is the opposite of myself and he may know this. Forward and talkative as opposed to passive and reserved. He tells stories that demonstrate this. Of recent fights in a bar, then the next day, seeing the men he fought walking down the street. Gilles grabbed a steel pipe from the ditch, ready to swing with force. “Not across the head, but the shoulder.” To break the clavicle, I deduced.
I don’t desire to be him but I can learn from him, as a young person should learn from anyone in their golden years. A friend described him as a know-it-all. There is maybe no better person to learn from, than one who knows everything. This last week he taught me that it is important to learn something new everyday. To try something you’ve never tried before. The internet assists him with this. He finds something he has never seen before and replicates it, improves it, has fun with it. Homemade tattoo gun. Musical laser visualizer. Video camera weight balance. He’s worried about getting Alzheimers, he said, so he keeps his brain busy. He was always good at building things, so he continues to do this. Then he taught me the following.
“You’ve gotta hit first and talk after, Nic. That’s what you gotta do.” The exact opposite of what I know, and advice I won’t soon put into direct practice. There are many people I would love to hit with a steel pipe across the collarbone and then never talk to again. Talking acheives nothing with most people, but an elbow to the nose would often start a riveting conversation. In regards to self, his adage may better fit. I overthink, and Gilles is just another person that, in his own way, is telling me to do the opposite. To follow instinct. To avoid the untameable gusts of thought that occur in an overstimulated, overexerted brain. To just fucking go for it. Consequences be damned. Regret nothing.
Gilles and I spent three or four hours in two Saint-Henri museums on a Sunday afternoon. In a pom-pom toque, brandishing a cane, he pointed out places he recognized, like the once great Église Saint-Henri, the All Girl Catholic school nearby, the 15-cent store. Several times he told me that he knew more than either of the available guides, and in this case, he may have been right. Gilles has had no time to think of the past negatively. He learned. He once quit his well-paying job to work for three months at Expo67. He got several dates with Miss World. In every story he tells me, as I nod and sip bière-forte, I can see that he didn’t overthink. He either put not enough, or just the right amount of thought in, and he regrets nothing.
Oh, to be seventy-one.