Working for the Man
By: Eric Amber
When telling the story of building the theatre, I often forget to mention the people I employed to help me. As I didn’t know any builders in Montreal, I hired anyone I could find. The first few months work were done with a couple of friends from Calgary who came out for the summer. Together we got a good portion of the upper apartment framed but the project was far bigger than any of us could have imagined so when they had to return home to Alberta I was left to continue on my own.
To aid me in the demolition of the restaurant I hired a few random students and the occasional traveling Australian but the hard yards were done with a couple of French-Canadian, cash in hand, day labourers who would only show up when they needed money for booze or drugs.
Most of them would turn up hungover, disheveled and under dressed, often wearing no protective boots, masks, gloves or eye wear, even when I provided it. They were crazies working for the next fix. I have to give them credit though, they did the dirty work I couldn’t have found sober men to do.
One of these day workers was named Sorem. His parents were Belgian and he spoke no English. He was super skinny, had long dirty hair, wore his clothes incorrectly and never smiled. A very serious fellow that didn’t seem to understand the concept of humour. He was slightly ‘touched’ with Aspergers perhaps, and had clearly suffered a lot of ridicule by the bullies of his youth. I guess I felt sympathy for him.
Sorem did show an interest in politics and though he was an admitted French-Canadian separatist he had no trouble working for his arch nemesis: The Alberta anglophone.
Perhaps because his own country men wouldn’t employ him.
As far as I could tell, his only life goal (which he spoke of with cyclical obsession) was to get a job with the union, which is a common aspiration for the French. Probably because he was so entirely unskilled that any job he couldn’t get fired from seemed like a dream to him.
Sorem also had an interest in all things electrical and would spend hours looking at wires, junction boxes and breaker panels. No matter how many times he electrocuted himself, he remained curious.
One harsh winter day in January, the temperature dropped well below -30 and my heaters were working over time.
I observed the electrical meter spin around like a broken clock on fast forward. I couldn’t have shoveled money out the door faster with a snow blower attached to a bank machine. Still, I had to heat the place and when one of the heaters konked out Sorem was on the case.
That same afternoon, fellow clown and street performer, Aytahn Ross dropped in for a visit so I left Sorem to fiddle with the heater while we went next door for coffee. I don’t recall being absent for very long but upon our return, smoke was rising from the basement. Aytahn and I ran down the stairs to find Sorem spraying WD-40 into the spinning fan of a heating element that was plugged into a 240 volt circuit. (For those unfamiliar with science, the combination of electricity and a flammable material is dangerous)
Smoke billowed out from the back of the heater as the smell of burning lubricant filled the air. I yelled at Sorem to stop but before I had a chance to disconnect the line a massive spark flashed and blasted Sorem right in the face. I was momentarily blind and deaf as the white light and high pitched screech in my ears stunned me for a few long seconds.
When my eyes adjusted I could see that Sorem had been knocked backwards and the fan had caught fire. Aytahn and I scrambled to kill the breakers and put out the flames. When I checked on Sorem, his hair stood on end, his head steamed and his face was covered in soot like a character in black face.
He looked at me with wide eyes and in a calm matter-of-fact-voice said, “That wasn’t supposed to happen.”
Aytahn and I looked at each other, then back at Sorem.
I asked if he was OK. He responded “Yes.” But I chose to send him home for the day.
I think most people love the circus or going to the theatre but its not all applause and glory. When the show is over, the tent needs to come down and the chores need to be done the lazy types are no where to be found. Sorem and a handful of other weirdos came to me at a time when I needed help doing the shitty work. They ate the dirt and went home covered in filth through the cold dark months of winter. For that I am very grateful, but having been a project leader/boss man, I can tell you this: no matter what some say, not all men are created equal.
God bless you Sorem. Where ever the fuck you are.