The following piece was written in the spring of 2006 while I was still a teacher at Royal Vale High School in N.D.G.
Not that long ago, another question touching on my personal life surfaced in one of my more challenging junior high school classes. For one reason or another, teens seem particularly fascinated by their teacher’s out of school activities, as if the interest itself would add spice to their otherwise stodgy classroom experience. How do I “chill,” they wanted to know.
“Will wonders never cease,” I exclaimed in mock horror, “a question for me here in the English classroom!” Having caught their attention with my usual trite theatrics, I then ardently imparted to them this rather brief narrative.
Being the owner of two properties at opposite sides of the city centre, I amble a four kilometre jaunt almost daily from one to the other. I’m told it’s good for my health and, moreover, I enjoy it.
(a few untimely yawns)
Like many urbanites, I am a “people-watcher,” a diversion for which a large city is particularly apt. It’s part of its magic, I suppose. As I saunter about, I cannot help but observe the great variety of ethnicities. So many languages, so many cultures, so many people. So much beauty, so much flavour, so much youth. Day after day, it is a genuine treat for my senses. For those fighting periodic bouts of ennui , I highly recommend it.
(Long familiar with my pointed quirks and interests, the class begins to fidget nervously.)
It does strike me that there is one oddity, however: I at no time encounter anyone I know. Admittedly I have never attempted to count the faces of those whose paths cross mine, but a quick, yet conservative estimate would put it in the hundreds. Furthermore, I am no stranger to this delightful city having happily lived here all of my 59 years.
What makes this rather curious phenomenon all the more intriguing is that I am just now winding down a thirty-five year career in teaching in the Montreal area, a vocation through which, according to a quick calculation, I have instructed well over five thousand adolescents. Surely, I ponder, they have not all moved to Toronto!
Nevertheless, I am also no stranger to coincidence and have, somewhat ironically, run across Montrealers in other cities of the world. Once, in 1968, I chanced upon meeting an acquaintance from Laval, Quebec in Times Square, New York. And only a few years later, I stumbled upon a friend from university days in a hostel in Athens, Greece!
(As the restlessness intensifies noticeably, I quickly glance about the classroom to see that I have not exceeded their attention span, a disorder about which we in education hear a great deal today.)
But these are rare occurrences indeed. Many a time we urban dwellers simply go about our way unnoticed. In a sense, it is in the teeming streets that we become the “nobodies” of the fabled Pierre Trudeau metaphor. I suppose, then, one of the great qualities of a city is also one of its great encumbrances. The inevitable namelessness presented to each and every one of us by a large metropolis is for many a blessing, but for some, it is a misfortune.
As for me, I revel in the anonymity my daily constitutional affords my being. Possessing no mobile phone, I mosey merrily through a labyrinth of urban roadways – thoroughly unknown and unreachable – until, like a mirage in the hot summer sun, my destination ultimately stands before me.
There is something enchanting about Montreal and its populace (as I bring my narration to a close in a dramatic fashion), particularly during the hot, aestive months. Lively festivals, which are now almost legendary throughout the country, attract tens of thousands of people to the city centre , and yet – think about it, boys and girls – I almost never meet anyone I know !
Ah, summer in the city !
Having once again astutely sensed that my fortnightly random discourse was over, the class sat dumbfounded before me. For one brief moment, no further reference to my personal life was made. A few toyed vigorously with their cell phone.
The fragile truce was only broken when one rapt pupil stirred suddenly.
“Sir,” he enquired falteringly, “Are you married?”