10 AM, Montreal, Canada — “Why does that Goddamn phone keep ringing?” I thought as I lay face down in bed; balloon-headed and half intoxicated from the night before. As with many mornings after a long night of boozing and debauchery, you are often awakened by something you were not anticipating. Generally speaking, I would expect to be shaken awake by the violent scraping of the snow plow around 2 AM, but it seems that I staggered in long after that business. In fact, it is hard to remember exactly how I arrived in this state, but here I was. The incessant ringing would not stop, and my condition did not equip me to deal with this situation appropriately.
I told myself to contort my limp body into an upright sitting position. Although it took more than a few attempts, I was eventually able to execute this task and was proud of my essential achievement. The ringing continued. I was uninterested as to why this was happening at the time, but I needed it to stop as soon as possible.
As the balloon began to deflate in my head, I now turned my attention toward locating this device. I began to assess the state of things around me and was very pleased to recognize the location as my apartment. As these things go, this was good news already. There were stacks of credit card receipts overflowing the nightstand, and my wallet lay open on the floor with its contents strewn about at random. From my blurred vantage point, I could see straight through the living room to a wide open front door. My underwear lay in the center of the room and began a trail of random clothing items that lead out the door and down the public hallway. And, there I sat on my bed naked as the day I was born.
My slow assessment had allowed my brain the time to triangulate the location of the ringing. I shuffled through the receipts exposing my iPhone and promptly silenced the bastard while taking note that the caller id indicated “Lisa Grant.” I’ll deal with her later, right now, I think I should pick up my clothes and shut the front door.
I stood up from the bed and began to stagger slowly toward the living room. I followed the trail out the door and down the hallway, picking up items as I went along. One pair of boxer briefs, one pair of thermal underwear, one pair of socks, one thermal undershirt, one sweater, and then… the trail stopped at the elevator. My sluggish brain was confused as a loud and unmistakable “ding” sounded the arrival of the elevator, nothing but strategically held clothing items to prevent me from being a full streaker at this point.
The doors opened.
Mr. and Mrs. Yang, an older Chinese couple that lived two doors down, stood inside motionless. Mr. Yang was holding my Canada Goose Jacket. “This must belong to you,” he said while holding it out for my collection.
“Thank you,” I responded while continuing to manipulate my bounty in a way to cover up the indecent parts of my body. I then headed back down the hallway to my apartment, leaving my dignity for the Yang’s to sort out later.
Typically speaking, finance and accounting people don’t have a reputation as boozers and can be quite conservative and boring. So, when Lisa Grant invited me to join her for a holiday dinner party with a large global accounting firm, I think I would have rather scratched my eyeballs out with a spoon. I’ll only refer to them as Global Co going forward as I suspect it is good practice to change the name to protect the guilty. However, upon learning of the free booze at this soiree, who was I to let Lisa deal with these bourgeois elders all alone.
Lisa worked in the legal and finance side of things for our employer and held the corporate relationship with Global Co. She was an accomplished horse riding and roping champion from Vancouver and could drink any man under the table. She was certainly not a conventional finance and accounting person. And, if you didn’t know any better, you would believe that she and I are “separated at birth” brother and sister. She took great delight in referring to me as just, “M.J.”
As it turns out, the holiday dinner party took place at a swanky restaurant in Old Port named Chez L’Epicier. The cozy ambiance was punctuated with the sound of soft jazz echoing throughout the dining room at just the right level. A reserved table for 20 would be the focus of this traditional feast. There was an intense snowstorm brewing outside, but you would never know it by the calm serenity of this lovely little place.
The fact that I lived in California Wine Country before arriving in Montreal was something of a novelty to those who had only dreamed of one-day visiting, and often it made me an instant celebrity in certain social situations. This night was no exception. The Global Co elder at the head of the table thought it would be an honor to have their distinguished guest from Napa order the wine. Were they mocking me? I took the opportunity to order three bottles of some exotic Red Wine for the table at $100 per. I needed to be on my best behavior but thought it a good idea to start lubricating the table with the finest of French wine right away. After all, the elder was picking up the tab.
Seated next to me was a very young Zoe LeBlanc. If we had been in Atlanta, she would have been a captivating and stunning southern belle but was only moderately attractive by Montreal standards. She caught my attention not because of her looks but rather the fact that she preferred a Bullet Rye over Wine and, spoke of traveling the world and living abroad. I must admit it was far better dinner conversation than I had initially suspected and decided not to touch my eyeballs with the silverware just yet.
For dinner, I treated my Southern palate to the Sous-vide duck magret, with red cabbage and juniper berries puree, beets two ways, and a beet-flavored duck broth. I’ve read accounts on Yelp that indicated customers were afraid they would die from spontaneous multiple orgasms while eating this dish. I’ve personally never been fearful of this phenomenon and was excited to experience this incredible preparation from Chef Laurent Godbout.
As per proper protocol and etiquette, it was not long after completion when the Global Co elder declared this holiday dinner a triumphant success and motioned for the bill; this was the signal for everyone in attendance to prepare for imminent departure. Lisa and I are sufficiently lubricated, thanks to the Wine, but Zoe seemed not quite satisfied with her level of comfort. She was to meet some friends at a nearby bar and invited us to tag along.
After shaking hands and bidding adieu to the Global Co crowd, the three of us set off on a walk through the now roaring blizzard to Philemon bar located behind the Basilique Notre Dame. The entrance is a nondescript, flat black, iron door located at the end of a dark and empty alley just off Rue Saint-Paul. It was literally like entering a prohibition-era speakeasy with Zoe privy to the secret knock and Quebecois pass phrase that allowed entry.
We joined an enormous crowd of party goers as we stepped through the black door. I remember thinking that half the population of Montreal must be in this tiny room. The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” was blaring at an almost uncomfortable high volume, and you would have never imagined it was -20 degrees outside judging by the way people are clothed. Montrealers can be damn sexy.
As with all bad decisions, it seemed perfectly reasonable at the time to start off with a shot and move on to the hard stuff. Lisa ordered the first round. We raised our glasses and quickly hit a shot of Petron that signaled the final boarding call for this shit train leaving the station. I chased it with my standard Belvedere and Canada Dry while vaguely attempting to remember the names of Zoe’s friends. They spoke in mixed English and French, and I was in no condition to try a real-time translation game.
Another round of shots miraculously appeared in front of us. We raised our glasses and quickly hit a shot glass of… “what the holy fuck was that?” I squeezed a lemon into my mouth, spit into a napkin and leaned into the bar, “What was that shot?” I screamed over the now appropriate “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin. The bartender looked at me confused.
My slurred Redneck French is awful at best, so I honestly have no idea what came out of my mouth as I attempted to say, “please no more of those” but this simply appeared to have unlocked the entrance to the deepest part of the evening’s rabbit hole. Within moments, multiple shots of different contents appeared in front of each of us. We raised our glasses. Salut! We raised our glasses… gibberish, nonsense, vagueness, and blackness.
Once back inside my apartment, I managed to slam my head into a sink full of ice water to jumpstart the sobriety process. I remember this from a Huey Lewis video, and maybe it will work for me. Then, I put on some pants and made fresh coffee. I was worried that the police might show up at my door any minute as Mrs. Yang did not look thrilled about my appearance at the elevator. It might be best to call Lisa back now and give her a heads up that I may need bail money downstream.
According to my phone, Lisa had been calling about every two minutes consistently since 8:30 AM. Perhaps she was the one who ended up in jail? I dialed her phone, she answered immediately.
“Do you have my credit card? I can’t find it.”, she queried.
“Why would I have your credit card? And, how the hell did I get home last night?”
“M.J.,” she explains, “We shared a taxi home, and I thought you might have picked it up at the bar on accident. I’ve been calling the Philemon but no answer. Can you look to see if you have it?”
I start parsing through the contents of my wallet on the bedroom floor. There was no sign of the missing credit card. I then started rummaging through the receipts on the nightstand and floor in a sad attempt to retrace our steps. Apparently, the Philemon was the first stop of five on board the previous night’s shit train. I did notice a standout receipt however and called it to Lisa’s attention. “What is this $300 worth of Liquid Cocaine?” I asked.
“Jagermeister and Goldschlager. Jesus, how much did we have to drink?” she responded.
“I’ll audit that and get back to you. Are you going to submit this expense report ‘Miss Legal and Finance?’ I’m certainly not!” I fired back.
“I don’t think either of us will expense this M.J., call me back if you find my card. I’m at the office,” she replied and promptly hung up.
While my head was spinning trying to deduce how the hell she had the ability to even be present at the office right now, there was a sudden knock at my door. Shit! I knew it, Mrs. Yang had called the police. I gathered my composure to the best of my capabilities, ensured I was wearing clothes, and with coffee in hand, opened the door to accept my fate.
Standing there was a short man in a wool sweater, a scarf wrapped classically around his neck and wearing a derby hat with leather gloves. He didn’t look like a police officer as much as a butler. I was confused by his presence.
“Pardon Monsieur, but I am Maxime, and I was your taxi driver last night. You forgot this when you exited”, he responded with a thick French accent while his hands stretched out to deliver my fancy Canada Goose hat and scarf.
“Oh. Merci. Uh, wait, how did you find my apartment?” I inquired.
“This is the address where I dropped you. So I thought I would start here,” Maxime explained while pointing at Mr. Yang now standing in plain sight down the hallway. “This man seemed pretty sure that I was looking for Apartment 210.”
“Ok. Merci Maxime.”, I replied. He tipped his derby hat and began to walk away with the stroll of an aristocrat. Mr. Yang stood idle in the hallway still with a sly smile on his face and inhaling a freshly lit cigarette.
“Thank you, Mr. Yang!” I yelled as I shut the door.
Across the living room, my phone begin to ring again. It was Lisa. “Hey M.J., false alarm. I found my card. When are you coming into the office?”8