My first apartment was on the corner of Berri and Viger; I joined a few friends living in the old headquarters of an insurance company, right next to the National Archives. I moved in during Spring Break – it was the first day of a long weird trip.
The square above was right across the street, and being the naive West-Islander I once was, I figured it was harmless, perhaps an even ideal place to hang out and relax. That’s when I came to realize Montréal has a big homeless problem, and Viger Square was about as close as we get to having a bonafide Gypsy camp. My roomates told me that at the end of the summer The Fuzz came by, swept everyone into a paddy wagon, destroyed the shelters, and drove them all to the metropolitan city limits.
Not to say that I really had anything to do with the numerous homeless, anarchists, lunatics and drug-peddlers I now co-habitated with, but proximity and a new social circle brought a fair bit of news my way, and only a few weeks in I began getting paranoid, freaked out. It turned out there had been a vampire on the loose.
Now granted, the Vampire of Viger Square had been behind bars for a few years at this point, but still, it made me wonder whether this city had pushed its homeless, its bottom rung, so far away from the public’s view that a desperation had taken hold, and they were going to make themselves heard, or felt, at any cost.
I observed them from a distance, kept casual and started changing my habits, my comings and goings. I often stayed in, especially through that spring and early summer, watching from my second floor perch, cold beers and hot, sweaty joints concocting new terrors in my brain. I took to walking around late at night with a solid pine cane, half-concerned for my safety, half-convinced I was there to bring order to the perceived chaos. A long trip of substance abuse (unusually dominated by caffeine and multi-vitamins), and increasing fear, compounded by a deteriorating appreciation of human life, brought on by reckless engagement in syndicate duties; I found my own dark world in Viger Square, where after a couple months of regular, forced interaction, became the only place I felt secure, even if it was only the security I found in the certainty of my gloom and despair.
I had previously thought where one lived was completely arbitrary, that one apartment was really as good as any other, and that location was ultimately meaningless. How very wrong I was.