Breathless, the Jean Luc Goddard film (À bout de souffle – 1960) had been out long enough for it to start showing up at repertory cinemas and film societies. I lack the skill to describe the meaning this movie held for us in the early sixties. It was powerful. Every existential male anti-hero of the last forty-five years is descended from the Jean-Paul Belmondo character, Michel. Jean Seberg’s Patricia is our beat goddess. My memory may be exaggerating this but I recall that the École des Beaux-Arts film club showed this movie every week for a year. I went at least seven times. At one of these showings I met Louise R.
Earlier that evening I’d boosted a new pair of Gorilla Kodiak work boots from the Eaton’s department store. I was a petty thief in those days. I’m not necessarily proud of this but I see no point in being ashamed, either, at this point in my life. I’d be in the shoe department trying on boots and when the moment seemed right I’d walk out, very fast but not too fast, wearing my new Kodiaks. Later, at the Beaux-Arts, Noel said he saw me walking down Sherbrooke Street – very fast – from across the street, my bright shiny boots like beacons. (These boots looked ridiculous till they got a bit worn and dirty.) Louise was there – we met – and from that day, for all eternity – she called me “Boots”. So did others who were present. Sam’s the only one that still calls me that.
Louise and I started hanging out together immediately. Naturally, I fell in love with her. She was beautiful not only in the usual physical sense but also possessed a zany, playful spirit I couldn’t resist. She was up for anything, anytime, anywhere. She spoke almost no English. Aside from “boots” she maybe knew 20 English words. I thought, great, not only a new girlfriend but I’ll learn French in the bargain. Well, neither panned out. She was my girlfriend in the “pal” sense only and her English blossomed in my company while my French, if anything, got worse. I got by in Francophone company by using English words with a heavy Quebecoise accent, at which I was a master.
My lust got me nowhere. If I had then the boundless wisdom and serenity I have now I’d have been happy just to hang out with Louise but I was less than twenty, and a guy. It was hard to take. But eventually I deduced that Louise was a lesbian. She shared an apartment with two girls and one of her best friends was Anne Marie whom later I became good friends with, myself, and who was a lesbian for certain. But before all this, we were at the Black Bottom one night and I was describing my longing to Louise. “What means ‘sunday driver’?” she asked in her glorious version of English. I tried my best to explain. “Someone who only drives on weekends, an amateur, not real or serious. A dilettante.”
“A Sunday driver of love,” she explained.
A few years ago, reminiscing about Louise with friends in Montreal that also knew her I was told “Louise? A lesbian? She’s happily married with three kids!” Thereby shattering an illusion I’d maintained for four decades.