Register Wednesday | June 19 | 2019

Recurring Theme

The art of avoidance

1985 – Quebec City

I was riding the bus home from school. These three guys got on the bus and started causing trouble—just generally intimidating people.

I should note that, in the initial telling of this story, I exaggerated both their brutishness and my own heroism, and it was long enough ago that I can’t distinguish my embellishment from the actual events. But whether it consisted of standing up to their bullying, or just being an obnoxious little shit, I said something provocative to them.

They informed me that they would get off the bus with me and beat me up. I expressed my doubt that they would actually do that in front of people, and they assured me that in fact they would. My friends told me that they would stick around and back me up, except that I had asked for it.

At this point I started feeling nervous. I calculated that the distance from the bus stop to my house was too great to run; therefore, it would be smartest to get off a few stops early, at the underground mini-mall where my mom worked.

This I did, running down the escalator and through the mall with the villains in hot pursuit. I arrived panting at the door of my mom’s office. Previously you would have had to punch in a four-digit code, which could have been my doom, but luckily it had recently been replaced by a simple doorbell. I rang the bell. The secretary buzzed me in at quite the last second.

As I ran into my mom’s office, the tough guys audaciously rang the bell themselves. My mom went to the door and they declared their intention of beating me up. She asked why and the leader replied “Y’ bave.” Pronounced “ee-bav,” this Québécois expression means literally “he’s drooling” or “he’s foaming at the mouth” and colloquially “he’s mouthing off.”

“Ben, franchement,” my mom said. “Franchement.” Meaning “frankly,” but in this sense an expression equivalent to “gimme a break.”

1995 – Toronto

I was doing set security on the movie Crash. This involved supervising a set, in this case while the crew was gone, for twelve hours. You know that scene where James Spader and Elias Koteas fuck in the junkyard? It was that set—a real junkyard that had been tampered with slightly but was genuinely rundown and seedy.

It was November. I had gone to a party the night before and was hungover and sleep-deprived. I was also going through a really messy breakup and feeling emotionally unstable.

There was a shack, but although it was interesting from an anthropological point of view, it was infested with rats and didn’t have a light. So I tried to climb into a car to keep warm, but in doing so I cut my hands on some broken glass.

The junkyard was beside a railroad track, and so every once in a while I’d walk up to the tracks and hang out there. I almost got run over by a train at one point, just because I wasn’t paying enough attention. But I went back up there at night, just out of boredom.

I heard the voices of some teenagers. When I turned around to look at them, a rock the size of a pint glass whizzed by my head. I ran away.

Somewhere in my mind was the memory of my friend Adam, who’d hopped trains from Vancouver to Ottawa, telling me that hobo literature warns of roving teenage gangs who prowl train yards looking for hobos and then chuck rocks at them.

I ran for a few minutes. When I looked over my shoulder they had abandoned the chase, but I kept running anyway until I got to a 7-Eleven. I called the cops and a police car drove me back; the cops looked around and, finding nothing, took off. I called the security company to send in my relief early, since he had a car.

He, along with all the other security guys I told about this, seemed to think it was kind of funny or quaint that I’d run away from the gang instead of fighting them or something.


2002 – Montreal

I was riding the bus back from work. This teenage boy was sitting behind me. I could hear him talking to someone about how he was “pissed off, pissed off at the whole world.”

He punched the back of my chair. I half-looked over my shoulder. A moment later, he hit the chair again, and then again.

I turned around and said, “What’s up, man?” He said, “Fuck, man.”

I turned back. The bus was too crowded for me to move anywhere. I heard him say something to his friend about how he should slap me. As the bus approached the station, he started hitting the chair hard, repeatedly. I leaned forward so that I couldn’t really feel the blows.

When the bus stopped, we both got up. He was as big as me and accompanied by two other guys. I felt like I should at least ask him what the hell his problem was, but I flashed to the news items you read occasionally about some guy getting stabbed on the metro. After getting off the bus, we walked side by side for a moment and then I strode away quickly.