Wednesday, 11 October 2017


High School Confidential

It was a couple of hours after midnight and so I guessed it was sort of Saturday already, squinty in a Double Pizza outlet on rue Ste-Catherine and Jeanne-Mance. The chairs were on the tables. An employee in a polyester polo shirt was mopping the floor. There were two wedges of pizza on display, warm in infra-red heat. Nothing else within staggering distance was open. Ann and I were occupying a smoking room across the street at the Hyatt. We were hungry and I was sweating potential bed spins; I knew fog and pain would come with sunrise even if the curtains were drawn. I had regressed 40 years in the previous seven hours.

High school reunions are time machines. I graduated from a semi-private Catholic boys’ school in 1977. Ann and I were in Montreal to say hello again to distant friends of mine and perhaps find others whom I’ve lost along the way. This trip had a different, invigorating dynamic. “Our focus isn’t family obligations in my hometown, baby, we’re only here for fun.”

Marty is my oldest friend. He lives in Vancouver, me, Edmonton, the Rockies between us now. We grew up on the same side of the street in Montreal. His house number was 77, mine was 111. Our dads knew each other well enough to nod and know the other’s name. In kindergarten, 1966, Marty suggested we didn’t have to take the yellow Uncle Harry’s school bus, we could just cut through the alleys, he knew the way. Last weekend he informed me that I’m getting fat. I would’ve preferred “a little thicker around the middle” even though my waist size is 31-inches. Gut punch. When Marty admitted his embarrassment about his hair, I said there wasn’t much to be embarrassed about.

Eric had combined business with pleasure on this side of the Atlantic. He was in from London, UK via Boston. At home, he walks his dog in Windsor Park. He’d just learned that the old geezer he greets most mornings with a casual wave is Prince Philip. John lives on the ninth hole of a golf course in northern Mexico, about three hours south of El Paso. He and his wife Grace packed sipping tequila, Heineken and Mexican Marlboro Lights for Montreal. Ever gracious if lethal hosts, their penthouse suite became our headquarters after hours. The Nexus: Ann, me, Marty, Eric, John and Grace; the gang that couldn’t do shooters straight.

When I think of my high school days, I picture a Twister mat with overlapping circles. My old school was unique in that students attended from all over the city. One group rattled along together on the morning train from the West Island. Marty and I were Townies who transferred between three buses, the 165, the 51 and the 102; we’d bump into John and his brother on the 51 who were en route from Outremont. Eric caught the 66 before boarding the 102 much earlier in its loop. He could also take the 105.

Some guys were stoners while others only smoked cigarettes. Some guys inhaled both. There were athletes and brainiacs, nerds and hipsters, student councilors, chess players and drama club actors. Because of the bus stops and the train platforms, some shared bad habits or athletic facilities or common interests in particular rock bands combined with the configuration of classroom seating and the tics and tells of certain teachers, a mixture of that or this, it was impossible to be isolated, educated in a vacuum. My high school circle was not a bubble. Last weekend one fellow said, “We were a good group. There were no bullies.” I agreed and added, “No, just one psychopath and a sociopath or two.” Just like everywhere. Then we got to wondering about the fates of the red flags, the would-be criminals in our graduating class. “Wasn’t he kicked out?” Shrug. “D’know. Can’t remember.”

I cannot guess a person’s age anymore. Maybe I never could. The Class of ’77 gathered in a private lounge and so I knew that virtually everyone in the room was around my age, 57. Still, some guys looked like they could get seniors’ discounts anywhere. For others, their ageing process apparently ceased at the close of the 20th century, the only documented malfunctions of the Y2K scare. I thought I appeared as expected, unairbrushed, sort of close to the mark, four decades considered.

Enlarged pages of the school’s tabloid newspaper were laid out for display. Tony, meGeoff’s itinerant correspondent, was the Entertainment Editor. I cringed rereading my gushing review of the Rolling Stones’ Black and Blue (although rock revisionism has since come around somewhat to my teenaged, blind worship point of view). And there on the same page was blown-up proof that I’m not completely crazy. “Ann! You’ve got to read this! It’s all true!” I pointed to an ancient feature story on our school’s music teacher.

Miss was a dedicated disciplinarian, a pinched Scottish spinster who loved her work. “Mister Moore, you will learn to find middle C on a piano keyboard if it’s the last thing I do on God’s green earth.” One of the songs she taught us in secondary one (grade seven) was ‘Jim the Carter Lad.’ The chorus went: Crack! Crack! Goes my whip I whistles and I sings/I sits upon my wagon happy as a king/My horse is always willing and me I’m never sad/For there’s none can lead a jollier life the Jim the carter lad. Twenty boys with breaking voices would roll their Rs right back at their conductor. That memory will always stay with me. Did Miss know we were mocking her? Did she care? Crrrack! Crrrack! Ann, herself a retired music teacher, knows the words now.

Montreal’s Hyatt is a few blocks west of what used to be heaven, the former Sam the Record Man rabbit warren of rock ‘n’ roll. One Saturday morning in the spring of 1978 my friend Norm and I lined up well before opening time to score tickets for the Rolling Stones. Green card stock with a perforation and black type, $15 Canadian – mint stubs from the Some Girls tour now sell for $50 American on e-Bay. That the concert would be staged in a foreign country on the fourth of July was simply a matter of logistics. These days Norm lives in Toronto. In real life he’s a lawyer but he plays a blonde Fender in two working bands. His hometown crew which features his brother-in-law on lead guitar and vocals is called Exiled on the Main. The outfit rocked the Class of ’77 reunion.

Norm wore a black Keith Richards t-shirt. Judging from Keith’s hair, the design was based on a ’76 European tour photo. I’d had a hunch. I peeled off my red sweater to reveal a charcoal Mick Jagger t-shirt, ’72 American tour, jumpsuit and eye glitter. Since Ann and Grace were the only women there, I mostly danced to the live music alone. During the extended coda of ‘Tumbling Dice,’ I gave it my all, the full body roll the way Mick used to perform it. While trying to regain my feet or at least my knees I realized I’m not so limber anymore, fat as Marty so helpfully pointed out. What made the rising process doubly awkward was my knowing Eugene was in the room.

I played with and against some incredibly talented football players in high school. One of the best I ever saw was Eugene, a phantom running back, impossible to tackle. He quit the team because his passion was dancing and he turned pro. Eugene and his wife Jessie, who did not attend, are pioneers of a collaborative exercise regimen which they dubbed acro-yoga. I asked him how he connected the dots from dancing to acrobatics to yoga. His short answer was, “People.” He went on to explain that people are inherently social, we like being together. We enjoy the sensation of touch, of human contact. So why should a workout be any different? Tony has taken some of their classes. Tony said he now burns in body parts and places he didn’t know were included in standard human anatomy.

The Nexus had convened in a pub on Bleury at two Friday afternoon. A proposed stroll downhill to Old Montreal never happened. Once the high school bash wrapped up around midnight, it only made sense to go back to John’s and Grace’s to drink more and smoke Mexican cigarettes on the balcony where John suggested I might benefit from regular visits to a psychologist: good for me, good for Ann, just because I fear heights owing to an insane compulsion to leap. We were doing everything we used to do in a more sophisticated way, getting wasted in hotel suites instead of parents' basements and public parks. Nothing and everything had changed over 40 years. That is why I eventually found myself swaying slightly in Double Pizza at closing time eyeballing two slices of life preservers. “What are they?”

“Vegetarian and plain cheese, sir.”

Well, that wouldn’t do. “If you throw some pepperoni on both, I’ll buy out your inventory.” Sir? He called me sir. He didn’t understand that this weekend I am just 17, if you know what I mean.

“I’ll have to charge you extra, sir.”

“I’m cool with that.” I had to be, had no choice because I knew that when Ann and I eventually got vertical and cleaned up hours hence, we’d do it all again. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Love the honesty Geoff. I never felt like a phantom when running. I just couldn't stand the pain of getting hit so I made sure nobody would catch me. It was a pleasure seeing you and the gang again. See you in 2027, if not before. All the best.