The view from the bridge over the St. Lawrence river leading into the island of Montreal on the day that I’m driving over it: A giant purple thunderhead, slouching over the skyscrapers and the itty-bitty hill that sixteenth-century French explorers mistook for a mountain–a royal mountain, no less, a Mont Royal. But the gates of the bridge bisect the sky absolutely, such that to the right, toward the direction of my fair city, is ominous lightning sky, and to the left a bright blue summer afternoon. The sun is teetering between the two skyscapes, as if trying to make a decision, and it is shining almost directly into my eyes. I tell Danny as we approach to take a picture, but because he has to fish his camera from his backpack, and because the traffic clears suddenly as the bridge begins its ascent over the water, he only captures half of it.
It rains in fits. The lightning scares Axel’s cat.
My ankle starts to hurt on the way to the Law Building, where I once worked as a cafe-hand for an old Italian man named Matteo. Matteo is the best boss I’ve ever had. A typical exchange from four years ago:
Phone ringing. Me, groggy, perhaps hungover because it’s seven in the morning and summertime: “Hello?”
“Hello, Tomas! You wann’ work today!” Matteo shouts his words more than he says them, and his requests are more demands than requests.
Looking at my wristwatch. “Um, yeah, sure. Um, okay, Matteo. What time?”
“Now, Thomas! Very busy day today for [inexplicable beneath Italian/Quebecois accent]!!!”
“Okay, okay. Give me a bit to get cleaned up and over there.”
“You wann’ ride, Thomas!”
(All of the above would be shit-wringingly hilarious if any of you had actually heard Matteo speak, had known the man, and his unabashed enthusiasm for mundane minutiae. It would help, too, if you had fond memories of Matteo waking you up with phone calls at 7 in the morning, trying to corral you into selling his day-old pizzas so that he didn’t have to.)
My ankle starts to hurt because it’s been giving me trouble lately, and because I’ve already walked all over the goddamned place in the past two days. I am going to the Law Building to say Hello to Matteo, who will not be there, because some anonymous corporate entity has won his contract and put him out of business. Instead I’ll be greeted by Rita and John, who used to work for Matteo but who now work for aforementioned anonymous corporate entity. I’ll ask John how the new company is, and he’ll say that they’ve kept all of their promises, that it’s so far so good, and that “Anything is better than working for Italians.”
Montreal bagel tour, 9 a.m. Axel and I are on Fairmount, finishing our first bagels on the bench out front. “You want to go to St. Viateur?” I ask him. St. Viateur is the other bagel place, the only rival in Montreal for Fairmount’s excellent bagels–as Montreal’s are only rivaled by New York’s, which don’t even come close. Axel says that he does, sure, that that could be fun, that another bagel might hit the spot. We stand up and go.
When the clouds break, it is a perfect Montreal morning, breezy and hot-but-not-too-hot. But they don’t break often.
St. Viateur is a few blocks north and west. Along the way, Axel and I discuss various women who we never slept with, and the reasons we never slept with them. We talk about old breakfast spots and restaurants and neighborhoods. We watch the kids bomb down St. Urbain on their bicycles. Says Axel, “There goes B.” Says me, with much justification, “That dude’s a douchebag.”
When we get to the bagel store, the fat man at the counter is jovial. All fat men at all counters in Montreal are jovial in the summer, because it’s not the winter. The fat man gives us two bagels, fresh out of the oven. Axel asks the fat man if he’d toast them for us, and the fat man tells us that they can’t get any more toasty than they already are. We put our fingers on the brown bag. It’s hot, sweating. The fat man is right.
The fat man asks me where I’m from. It stings. I realize, four years late, that Montreal isn’t my home anymore.