Clean and Elegant

Clean and Elegant

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Guillaume, Part One: Too Ugly For Prostitution

Maybe you have seen this man. He sits on St-Catherine Street in front of Pharma-Prix, close to the Guy-Concordia metro. In front of him there’s a baseball cap where you can leave some money. In his hand he holds a cardboard sign. “Too ugly for prostitution,” it says. As far as ugliness goes, I would say he is not quite the champion. Though undergroomed, he has bleached blonde hair, bright eyes, and conventionally attractive facial features. Of course, my facial differentiation skills are terrible and so I am not an excellent judge. Still, walking down St. Catherine Street, I appreciated the relatively original humour on the cardboard.

“You never know,” I’d say to him, dropping a quarter or two into his hat.
The summer I moved to Halifax, I had to empty my shitty downtown apartment and put a bunch of my stuff in storage. My very tiny mother was coming to help me.

“Erica,” she said to me on the phone. “If you have any guy friends who could help, that would be great. I’ll pay them.” As it turned out, my ex-boyfriend Simon was working on a movie and I couldn’t really think of anyone else. I figured my mom and I were on our own. The morning I was supposed to move, I biked to the storage locker to get the keys. On the corner of Lucien L’Allier and Overdale, I ran into the guy with the cardboard sign.
“Hey,” I said. “You’re the guy with the sign. Too ugly for prostitution. I know you.” As though simply recognizing his sign and his face suddenly made us wonderful friends.

“That’s me,” he replied, looking behind me at the parking lot. I asked him if he was strong and if he wanted a job.
“My mom will pay you,” I promised.

“Yah, maybe,” he said. We introduced ourselves formally and I learned that his name was John. I led him down the street to my shitty apartment. When we got there, I think I offered John a shower. I can’t remember whether or not he took me up on this. I do remember that one of the first things he did was sit on the front porch. With a white out pen and black and red markers, he started to etch a design onto our steps.
“So like, can you help me take this stuff out on the curb?” John required a great deal of direction, but he did help me haul my mildewed fouton, mediocre dresser and a bunch of garbage out to the street. Unless I told him exactly what to do, he would go back to his white-out drawing. My mom arrived from Ontario. Although she was somewhat surprised at my choice of hired help, she was grateful to have some extra hands. With her car, John and I made a couple of trips to the storage place. At one point, after closing up the locker, I got back to the car, and John was gone.

“John?” I called. I wandered around looking for him and calling his name for a couple of minutes. Finally he reappeared.
“Where did you go?” I asked.

“Are you mad?” asked John. Well, I was a bit frazzled and irritated. In my opinion, he was supposed to help. Later on, my boyfriend the Boatman laughed at the fact that I’d been surprised at John’s struggle to remain on task. I guess I just thought he'd be happy to get a job. At the time, I was 25. Four years later, I feel much older than I felt back then. On the way back to my apartment, John told me about panhandling on St. Catherine’s Street. He said that sometimes he made 300 bucks a day. I didn’t think that my mother was going to pay that much. She was thinking fifteen or twenty dollars an hour. We got back to the apartment and John went back to his white-out sketch. There were still piles of stuff to throw out. I got him to help me with a couple more boxes. Then I went to the bathroom. When I returned, John had disappeared again. This time, he didn’t come back. We never paid him. I don't know if John is still around. I don't walk by that Pharmaprix very often.

It has been some time since I thought about John. I was reminded of the story a couple of weeks ago, when I met Guillaume. Guillaume and I met at a barbecue where we were the ninth and tenth wheels. It was a rather grown up barbecue, and almost all of the guests in attendance lived in their own condos. One of the couples was even involved in selling life insurance. Not the kind our friend Patrick bought, but a similar type for which you don’t require a medical exam. When I arrived at the barbecue, everyone was huddled in couples. Nobody seemed to be eating or talking. Immediately, I dove into the vegetable platter, filling ones of my hands with carrots and cauliflower, and slothering the vegetables in hummus. The other hand was filled with cheese curds. Then I took it upon myself to ask people about their lives. Guillaume took it upon himself to make mojitos.
By the time the mojitos were ready, I had learned a great deal about life insurance, and consumed a large quantity of cheese curds. Now I wanted to ask about Guillaume’s life.

When Guillaume was barely eighteen, he got a job working at a men’s homeless shelter in Longueil. Now Guillaume is 31. With minimal breaks, he has spent almost fourteen years working with people who struggle with homelessness and drug addictions. Listening to him, I felt like I’d rarely heard anyone speak of these populations with such wholeheartedness and respect.
In the end, there was so much to say that we met on the Lachine Canal the following day. Everyone who knows me would be amazed at how little I spoke throughout the entire thing. It can be a relief not to talk so much. And I heard a lot of captivating things.
To Be Continued
Guillaume had so much to say, that I'm breaking the interview up into various parts. You can read a bunch more on Monday.

I Can't Wait To Send This Email, A Drawing by the Boatman
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If you know someone who you’d like to see interviewed, or if you think you might be a good candidate, do get in touch with me.  Also, I am still waiting for my very first Internet Diagnosis of Every Three to Six Weeks.

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