Montreal is very beat. Especially the 950 block on Ste. Catherine St. One can hear the beat to keep to the music, the beat of the heart. You can see the beat drunkards on the corner hold on to their beer and Benzedrine until the noise of reality sets in and brings them down from the freeness and openness they feel. They wake up and listen to the crack of dawn, isolated and alone. They are beat down in the world like crashing cymbals, a drum beat ancient civilizations used when beating clay to make pottery; the same beat galley slaves use to push monstrous ships across the sea.
Bums are everywhere, yelling at passers-by for not giving a loonie, twonie, spoony, goony or anything they might have. While some bums appear to be fairly sane, others are clearly mad. A blind woman sits on the corner with a golden retriever by her side. She is humble, calm, silent, loving, with pride the size of a lion but is clearly ill. She had been released from a mental hospital four years earlier. She yells, “MERCIIIIIIII” every time she hears change clink in her tin cup. Sometimes, heartless scavengers take money out of her cup, but she doesn’t know the difference. She still says “thank you.”
This single block contains the epitome of all types of people. There are people straight out of a road house in a blues town, whose brilliant negative attitude is contagious, pessimists with looks on their faces like they envy the dead and who wish for a new, better life, but will undoubtedly greet it with a sigh because it will be worse than the one they already have, a middle-class family man working at a job he tolerates but always wonders if he could have made it as an actor, his true love and passion.
It is not all bad, though. You can see some modern day three stooges, bumping and grinding and skidding and goofing and laughing from a booze high and the joy they get from the city’s streets.
There is a man you can hear from a mile away, singing and dancing down the street. He knows everybody. When he sees somebody he knows, he yells, “HI!!” then looks away for something or someone else. Everything is beautiful to him, even the winos. He continues to sing and dance through the busy city streets covered with paper. Even the pitifully plain plastic bags are wonderful to him.
The corner by the record store is filled with pimps with big coats, top hats, and magnificent jewelry around the neck, shiny enough to hold anybody’s breath. The dope dealers are there too, their feelers probing everybody that walks by, waiting for the right person with the right money.
Across the street, a man plays a trumpet gold in color. “Blow blow blow!” onlookers tell the tall Negro, who can play a mean horn with a soft, milky style, but cannot recognize his own name written on a piece of paper. Doo ba dee ba doo wop dee doop. “Don’t care, flow with it, look at me, so calm, relaxed, excited! Up and down I go wherever I please. The harmonious glory I bring, you too can bring. Take it easy, take it slow, like the slither of a silent snake, take it hard, attack with all you got and have no regret, because what comes out is supposed to, it ends when it should and begins at the perfect time–not a nano-second before, not a nano-second after. Right then, in the now!!” The horn says this to the bystanders with the sounds escaping its sly smooth silky opening.
This is the kind of energy that flows up and down this one small block. All the madness, excitement, fear, joy, pain, sorrow, despair, happiness, apathy, sympathy, empathy in the world can be found on the 950 block of Ste. Catherine in Montreal. You do not have to look hard, just look.