As I lay there, a deflated air mattress my only padding against the vehicle's unforgiving plastic baseboards, my face concealed beneath a blanket and body contorted so as to ensure the soon-to-be-arriving Monday morning passersby don't perceive the mass beneath the stack of blankets in the back of that SUV on the corner of Villeneuve and St. Urbain as the body of a human man, it dawned on me: I've been here before.
In fact, it was the previous night, on a side street in Portland, Maine. Same baseboards. Same deflated mattress. Same inconspicuous body position. As I began to nod off, it dawned on me: I can't sleep here.
"We have to get out of town," my friend insisted, nudging me out of my 5-minute slumber. Within minutes, Portland had become a distant glimmer in the rearview, and we were settled into our new home in the bleak blackness of a flea market parking lot off Interstate 93. As we dozed off, a pair of high beams basked us in their blaring light, and from its epicentre emerged a uniformed officer with a flashlight. As he tapped ominously against our window, it dawned on me: we're fucked.
"Spending the night?" he interrogated. "Yes," we pouted, mentally preparing to exit the vehicle with our hands up. "Okay," he replied, "we just like to check on people sleeping here, make sure everything's ok."
It was one of the few but profound blasts of positivity that managed to take the sting out of the many FML moments this trip provided. Another one happened the next day.
The following Sunday morning unfolded like any other: Wake up, open the trunk, crawl out onto the gravel parking lot, explain to strangers why we are here, buy earrings, and as usual, accompany the flea market canteen attendant/blues singer on "God Bless The Child" and "Hallelujah" using the electronic piano she has placed behind the canteen counter (and which she also tried to sell me). Of all places to find a singer-pianist with a 4-octave range versed in Billie Holiday's catalogue, the Green Flea market in Westbrooke, Maine was the most unlikely.
And speaking of high-calibre singers in unlikely places, I never dreamed I'd get to witness a Soul legend for whom Otis Redding used to open sing to a crowd of 80 in a barn-turned-performance hall in a town of 1597 people while eating cranberry pork. But that's just what happened when Bettye LaVette appeared right here at the Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield, Maine.
"It's so good to be here," she said, looking suspiciously at the crowd, "wherever the hell this is." An unlikely place, indeed.
Turns out, Ms. LaVette wasn't the only unsung legend in the room. When we arrived, the only available seats were directly in front of the stage, directly next to a charming lesbian couple, Eve and Sheryl, who were celebrating 42 years of togetherness. We discussed the Montreal gay village and they mentioned they had been members of the Mattachine Society, one of the world's very first official gay rights activist groups and a central player in the post-Stonewall uprisings, without which there would be no Montreal village to speak of.
Unlikely places. Unlikely people.