Another Letter to a Friend

Dear Mikey,

It was 7 years ago I met you and Rod (“Grumpy”), through John (“Irish John”), at our beloved Pub Victoria. I think it was on that very 1st day we met that I discovered why you were nicknamed “Slash”. You were getting into one of your usual heated debates with Rod and, to prove whatever point it was you were trying to make, reached into your jacket pocket to retrieve one of your many newspaper clippings. John told me later you were called “Slash” because you cut the newspaper to ribbons in order to keep all of the articles that interested you.

As I got to know you over the following weeks and months, I was amazed at your breadth of knowledge, especially considering you had never set foot in a university classroom. Not only did you read the Globe and Mail from cover to cover every single day, you remembered every single thing you read – forever. You were living proof that a university education is not at all required to have a powerful and well-informed intellect. Your ability to remember facts from the deep past, on virtually any topic, was almost always demonstrated when I was routinely called upon to fact-check some assertion you had made on my iPhone. But you were not just encyclopaedic – you were an accomplished analytical thinker and so many of your arguments were extremely persuasive.

You were also a great story teller and I loved when you and Rod would describe what it was like growing up in Montreal in the 1950s and 60s. I especially liked your famous story about how staunchly English your mother was. She went into a department store in the 1950s and when the cashier told her the price of her item in French, she haughtily and proudly snapped “I don’t speak French”. When the cashier turned the register so that your mother could see the numbers, she said disdainfully “I don’t read French either.” This was just one of your many stories of the “two solitudes” rift between the English and French which I have only caught glimpses of since I moved to Montreal in 1987.

You and Rod told us about going to watch the Montreal Royals who, I learned from you guys, were the top Triple-A farm team of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers from 1939-1960 and the team which Jackie Robinson played for in the 1946 season. You used to watch them play at the old Delorimier Downs stadium just down the street from where I now live. I had no idea there used to be a stadium there and listening to you talk was an education for me on a Montreal I have never known or experienced. Although I went to the old Forum to watch the Montreal Canadians, you used to watch them for 25 cents in the standing room section where people were allowed to smoke! In 1956, when you were 11 years old, you got thrown out of the Forum for dinging the referee in the head with a peanut after he had called a penalty on Rocket Richard. To kill time, you went to the movies and then found out everything that had happened during the game. When you got back home, you told your parents about what a great game it had been and how some kid had gotten thrown out of the building for nailing the ref with a peanut!

You also talked in nostalgic terms about Expo 67 when you were 22 years old (and I was not even born!) It was the “summer of love” all around the world but with Montreal hosting the exposition; it sounded like the city was simply the coolest place to be on the planet at the time. You described how the streets were packed night and day and the party never stopped all summer long. That being said, I imagine your claim that you slept with a different girl each night was something of an exaggeration. Still, I was fond of your exaggerated claims: e.g. that you wore $800 tailor-made suits which were, in fact, off-the-rack Moore’s suits worth no more than a couple of hundred dollars, that you were pals with all of the made guys in the Montreal Mafia, that you had a secret formula to make your own line for our annual football pool, etc., etc. You were always several steps ahead of where you actually were but you managed to pull it off in an endearing, rather than annoying, way.

Although you could exhibit a bit of a mean streak at times (e.g. some of the disgraceful things you said to our dear “cunt faces” at Pub Victoria!) you will be remembered for your philanthropy and generosity of spirit. This, of course, was made most manifest through your tireless efforts with the Erin Club where you would take us each year for American Thanksgiving. You were always in the middle of some charity event, organized through the club, and were quite rightfully very proud of all the money you helped to raise for the underprivileged in Verdun, Pointe St. Charles and St. Henri. Your care and concern for the needy, your loyalty and dependability to your friends, your deep sense of Irishness (even though you were only an eighth Irish) and your tavern-touring sociability are what you will be remembered and missed for most.

Unfortunately, you will also be remembered for your ill-health. You had been frail ever since I met you but it was horrifying to watch you deteriorate so dramatically after you fell at home last year and broke your pelvis (although you even entertained us with that when you described how your penis turned black (“but not bigger”) for a few days immediately after the fall). As none of your 3 failed marriages produced any offspring and your siblings were in Ottawa, when you would leave us to go home it saddened me that you were all alone in your apartment with no one to take care of you. The last time I saw you was on your birthday, 27 May, just a couple of months into your retirement after 50 years of service in the specialty insurance market. You looked absolutely ghastly – like you were made of paper and might blow away in the wind. Rod and I exchanged a long look after you staggered away, clearly in agonizing pain.

It was therefore no surprise when the call came through from your sister with the bad news. You had called her the night before to tell her you were not feeling well. After driving down from Ottawa the next morning, she found you with an empty beer glass still in your hand. There is something incredibly sad about that as well. However, when I think about my own death, perhaps it is better to go to sleep in your own home and never wake up rather than die in a hospital’s palliative care unit surrounded by family and friends. I do not know.

The turnout for your Mass of Remembrance at St. Gabriel’s Church was considerably smaller than I expected. I guess the number of contacts and close friends that you had was another one of your exaggerations. In any case, I was on the list of close friends that you had given your sister to contact in the event of your death and I can say that I am deeply honoured that you counted me among them. May you rest in peace, dear Mikey.


About Requiem for the Damned

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