In saying good-bye to this city, to my daughter’s first home, to the place that has amused and vexed me for the past 3 years, I am writing a three part series of posts about our time here.
One area I have woefully neglected on this blog, and didn’t even REALIZE it until someone suggested I blog about it, is all the crazy people and the crazy things they say/do to me here. I can’t even remember all the bizarre things that have happened, and they happen with such frequency, so I’m just going to give you some highlights. I have titled this list of events:
“I Swear People Here Have Brain Damage.”
1. I was on the metro platform waiting for a train with my daughter. The next train came, stopped, and a guy stepped off but just off to the side, like you would do if you were getting out of the way so that others could get off but you intended to get right back on. There were two gentlemen inside the train exchanging very loud words. I didn’t even realize this until after I had stepped on and gone to the opposite side. The arguing guys were now between me and the door, being held open by the guy standing on the platform. The argument was very heated, they were shouting and acting aggressively like the fists were going to fly at any second. The guy outside the train kept motioning for them to get off. Then he reached into his duffle with his arm and pointed something in the bag at the two men. It’s hard to describe this motion, but let’s just say it was exactly the kind of thing you’d do if you had a gun in your bag and didn’t want to get it out but wanted to make sure someone was thinking “he has a gun in his bag.” Eventually, a different guy standing on the platform who had just showed up, took pity on me and stepped into the doorway and held out his hand to me. The two fighting guys were surprised for a second and that pause allowed me to get off the train with my kid and I went down to another train car. I don’t know how the fight “ended.” The train was stopped for another minute or so, but then went on as usual. This was one of only 2 times I was every really “afraid” for a minute in this city.
2. I was waiting for the bus holding my then 1 year old. She had wriggled so that the bottom of my shirt had come up and I was trying to pull it back down. A woman waiting for the bus, looked over and said “you should really lose that baby fat.”
3. We were having dinner with friends recently, and we were sitting inside a restaurant with large open windows along the street, but we were like two tables in from the windows. A passing older man saw my daughter at our table, stopped and poked his head all the way into the widow and tried to get her attention so he could “coo coo” at her. Our friends were totally dumbfounded. I was like, “this shit happens all the time.”
4. While crossing the street at a big intersection and holding my two-year-old’s hand, a woman came up behind us and tried to get my daughter to hold her hand with her other free hand. When my kid wouldn’t just grab a stranger’s hand, she looked at me and said “get her to take my hand!” And all I could think so say was “Um, why?” She angrily shouted, “I am trying to help you!” and stormed off ahead, muttering to herself.
5. I was at the playground and my daughter decided to run out of the somewhat enclosed play area to explore the small grassy area outside of it. A couple of people had their dogs there. I had set my bag on the picnic table inside the play area, so I kept peeking over at it to make sure it was ok. We were the only ones there, besides the dog owners. After a minute or two, I’m about to tell my daughter we need to go back to get our bag if she wants to explore more of the park, and I look up and see a guy park his bike along the fence. I thought he was on the outside of the play area. But when I look again, I realize he’s on the inside and he’s standing over my bag. Then, he starts going through my bag. I shout over as I start running towards him “Hey, that’s my bag!” He puts his hands up like “oh, I had no idea!” And hurries off with his bike.
6. In our apartment one day, I heard this sound like it was raining in our bathroom? I went in and there was brown waste water pouring from the ceiling vent. I sent my husband downstairs to get the building manager and they sent their handyman up. Turns out, the people above us were doing their laundry in. the. toilet. For real. They had been using the toilet. To do their laundry. And somehow, in this completely ill-advised process, they had flushed a sock and some other small things and totally clogged the water line. But did they do anything about it? Nope. So, fast forward to the poo-rain in my bathroom–the building guy sorta mopped the floor for me, because there was a lot of water at this point. But I had to spend most of the bleaching every surface in my bathroom until it hurt to breathe the fumes. There are a lot of questions I want to ask those people (who have since moved out, I think), but if I only got one, I’d ask: “why didn’t you just use the bathtub which is like 4 $%^&@ inches from the #$^&*@ toilet??”
7. I was watching my daughter play on a playground climbing/slide apparatus while talking to another mom last week. There was a group from a local school there and the older kids were not letting her go down the slide or really move around at all without bumping into her. She was mostly just standing around watching them go by and hoping for a break in the traffic so she could cross the bridge or go down the slide. I was observing all of this, but one of the monitors from the school decided to find out who’s little kid this was (mine) and then yell at me for not “watching her closely enough.” Because when your kids are knocking around a smaller child, it’s the smaller child’s parent’s fault for not hovering over them to make that stop. Right. And even after I told her that I was watching and would appreciate if she could tell her students to be more careful, she still spent the next 10 minutes complaining to every adult on the playground about me.
8. When my daughter was still very young, just a few months old, I was coming home from the grocery store. She was bundled up in her baby carrier and I had a grocery bag in each hand. I noticed at the corner before my building a very disheveled man yelling at the top of his lungs to a man on a bicycle across the street, and the biker angrily shouted back. I had no idea what they were saying, but I could tell the older guy standing on the sidewalk was a bit crazy, possibly drunk, maybe homeless. I saw the biker speed off and the guy’s gaze then fall onto the nearest passing person. Me. I avoided looking at him and calmly kept walking. He started following me. He started shouting at me. I didn’t look at him, I tried to pretend I had no idea he was following me. He got closer and lounder and I walked a little faster. I think he realized at some point that I didn’t speak French because he started fuming at me about Quebec. I was probably only 30 meters from the sidewalk up to my building’s entrance at this point, so I figured that as soon as I turned off the city sidewalk, he’d probably stop following me, but he didn’t. He was practically next to me when I started up towards our front door. So I walked really, really fast, while trying to fish for my keys. I got to the door and I didn’t know how far behind me he was but I opened the first door (not locked) and swiped my magnetic key against the wall thing for the second set of glass doors ever-so-briskly. And just as I passed through the locked doors, I caught this guy’s reflection in the mirrors ahead of me and he was coming through the first doors. I pulled the second door shut behind me and it clicked close just as he reached for it. I made haste to the elevators (of course no one was in the lobby office that day) and counted myself lucky. But as a new mom, I’m pretty sure I would have had the endorphins, adrenaline, and rage to tear this guy’s face off had he actually touched me or my baby. I have no idea what he was trying to do, but I’m glad I can walk fast.
9. A woman on a bus when my daughter was a about 18 months old, offered me her seat and I said “no thanks.” She insisted I sit down. “No really, I’m fine.” Then she says, “but you’re pregnant!” And totally embarrassed, I say, “no I’m not.” She says……. “yes, you are!” After I died inside a little bit, I just stare at her with total shock. She stares back. Then she says “Oh, I’m sorry” and looks away.
10. When I had a headache that wouldn’t go away for several weeks, I went to a walk-in clinic in my area to see if I was dying. A doctor saw me, told me I had a sinus infection, prescribed an antibiotic (that I couldn’t take because I was breastfeeding, which I told him), and as I left I asked the receptionist to give me the code for the visit that my insurance would need. She had no idea what I was talking about. I paid for the visit and they gave me a receipt for my insurance. Several weeks later, my husband tells me that our insurance rejected the claim because they need a Quebec-specific diagnosis code from the clinic. I take the form the insurance company sent with the claim rejection down to the clinic to ask for that number again, this time with the specific name of that code. The receptionist tells me that I will have to pay for another visit to have that formed filled out by them. I argue, “no, no, I just need ONE number, it should be in my file.” But she says she is not allowed to look that up, only the doctor is allowed, even though she has my file RIGHT in front of her. She insisted to have the doctor look up this code, requires an appointment, a pay-$120-that-your-insurance-will-NOT-cover appointment. I tried to explain the lunacy of paying $120 to see if my insurance would cover the previous $120, but it was at this point that she switched to french and would not speak english any more.
11. The people who used to live below us had these massive fights with screaming and wailing and shrieking in the middle of the night. It would wake me from a dead sleep. The guy that lived there would also smoke a LOT of pot. A LOT. And the smell would drift up into my apartment because he would keep all his doors and windows shut and blocked. So, our vents would be pouring out pot smoke whenever he decided to get high with his friends, which was anywhere from Saturday night to 10am on a Tuesday. We complained to the building, we knocked on his door. The building was trying to have them evicted (I believe for failure to pay rent) and the manager confessed to me that every single unit around, above, and below had complained about these people. They FINALLY moved out voluntarily, but not before one especially memorable night when I was at this guy’s door BEGGING him to stop smoking because my baby’s eyes were red and itchy and I was coughing upstairs and he tried to tell me that no one was really smoking there, only one cigarette, but not pot. Yeah.
12. My little girl and I got on the metro one night and she walked up to one of the center poles to hang on. The train lurched and she fell back, but I reached out to grab her hand and pull her back up. As I’m doing so, a man in the seats facing us gets up and grabs her other arm. He pulls her towards him. I’m pulling her towards me when he does this. He won’t let go. I give him a look of shock and he pulls on her arm again like he’s trying to pull her away from me. I snap and shout “let go of my kid!” at a volume that the entire train car hears. He yells back at me angrily, “I am trying to give her my seat!” I think I countered with something like “I don’t care, you never pull someone’s kid away from them!” I was just so pissed off. He then proceeded to bash me in french to everyone around him who’d listen for the next two stops until I got off. My daughter was pretty shaken and reminded me for a few days about the “man who pull me” on the train.
13. My daughter and I were leaving Montreal’s airport to get on the express (#747, how appropriate) bus into the city. One of her favorite things to do is ride on my rolling suitcase. She sits on the top and holds onto the pulled out bars of the extendable handle like she’s on a ride. It saves me having to carry her. Mostly people think it’s cute, but one lady decided to loudly point out to me “that’s really unsafe, you know! She could fall.” I laughed and said “you should see what she falls off at home.” Of course, I got the death-glare of judgment, because 30 inches is a really unsafe distance for a 31 inch kid to fall. Clearly.
14. The lady down the hall used to make her son play in the hallway while she was on the phone. He’d run up and down the halls yelling and sometimes thumping into the walls for 10 minutes or so. Usually while my baby was napping. Naturally.
15. My husband and I were flying a kite with our daughter in a large plaza by Berri-UQAM. I was helping her keep her kite up even though there wasn’t much constant wind. A man approaches us and says something I don’t understand in French. I say “I’m sorry I don’t really speak french.” And he says “This is Quebec, we speak french here.” (That part I understood.) I try to ignore him and turn around but he is very close, and keeps lecturing me in french. I don’t understand most of it. I keep ignoring him. Finally, I just say “I’m not from here,” and he responds in perfect english “oh, where are you from?” And my plan is to ignore him, but my husband answers “New York.” This guy then goes off on a “your city has a lot of problems…” rant. Finally, he wanders off after we both ignore him to focus on our kite that won’t stay up for awhile. Way to represent Quebec, dude.
It’s a very weird city…and this is coming from a former NYC resident who had a guy who frequently hung out in front of her building and had conversations with the traffic cones. I try to remind myself of all the strange and frustrating aspects of living anywhere, but nowhere I’ve lived or frequented seems to hold a candle to the residents of this place.
So, to all the people of Montreal who have poked me, tapped me, gently shoved me because they HAD to let me know there was an open seat on a bus or insisted I sit down when I didn’t want to, to the people who told me my kid should be wearing a hat when it was 20 degrees Celsius, the people who have conveniently forgotten how to speak english because I have a problem I need them to fix, and the insane, insensitive, or just plain idiotic people who like to harass me, I will not miss you. I hope your crepes always come out rubbery.