It was my third trip to Canada. The first time was an hour’s excursion into Windsor while I was visiting an old girlfriend who had just moved to Detroit back in 1969. I drove over through the tunnel so I could say I’d been out of the United States. I stopped at a topless bar, downed a Molson and took the bridge back to Detroit. It hadn’t been much of a trip in miles. But it was a major expedition in my mind. From that day forward, I thought of myself as an international traveler.
My second trip was to Montreal in 1971. While on vacation, Allison and I drove up to visit my main man and former college roommate, Ellis Alan Tate III, a.k.a. Trey. Trey was an expatriate actor. He was playing Hamlet in Theatre Royal Shakespeare de Montreal’s La Petite Salle. When we passed the theater, I jumped out of the car looking for Trey’s name on the Marquee. I had imagined how it would appear all along the way:
Ellis Alan Tate III as Hamlet.
Not so. The marquee read, Now Showing Much Ado About Nothing. A poster next to the box office window said: Presenting Hamlet on the Studio Stage.
Allison sensed my disappointment. “Cheer up, Trotsky. He’s just starting out. We’re all just starting out.”
She was right, of course. But Trey was an awfully talented actor. As I believed, I was an equally talented writer. We were part of a front of first Blacks forging into the American mainstream, not as tokens, but as agents for change. We were cutting edge. The next generation after what I called the Gordon Parks phenomenon, where there was one Black star here and one Black star there and that was that. We would have numbers and we would have each other. I had imagined Trey and me making a big splash right out of Pullman State. It hadn’t happened. Yet.
When we got to Trey’s crib I rang the bell.
“Bonjour,” a tinny voice rang through the intercom system. “Trey?”“Trotsky?”
His trademark laugh was mechanically distorted as it boomed through the intercom. He rang us in. We brought up our luggage. Unpacked. Met his new lady, Monica, who was this cute, cherubic, freckled redhead. We had an early evening snack. Then we were off to the theater to see Trey perform. We were forced to make our way through pickets who were marching in front of the theater and who spat out hostile catcalls at us in obscene French.
“The protesters are French nationalists. They’re demanding that the Shakespearean Theater stage the works of some of Quebec’s indigenous young playwrights,” Trey shrugged.
“En Francais?” Allison asked.
“Oui. Oui. In French,” Trey replied.
I shook my head. Monica Hurley, who was born and raised in Toronto, flipped the finger at the protesters then scurried through the backstage door. She was not just tagging along. Although she had seen the production a dozen or so times, she was still enthusiastic about seeing it again. I thought Trey was much better than the rest of the actors on stage and told him so. He smiled and thanked me. I told him he’d star in one of my movies someday. He smiled again.
After the play, we went backstage and met the cast. Then we returned to Trey’s apartment where we caught up. Trey and Monica were thinking about jumping the broom. Monica was a dramaturge who had just finished writing a play, Le Homme Noir Et La Femme Blanc. There was strong interest. She said the play’s central characters, a Black man and white woman, obviously star stuck lovers, symbolized the tragic relationship between French and English Canadians. It was her second play. Her first, When White Men Fail, had been repeatedly rejected. Then Trey told us he wanted the title role in The Emperor Jones at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre next. He hoped to ride the role all the way to a Broadway revival.
I pulled out my bag and rolled a joint. Allison took the first hit then passed it on to Trey. He waved it off.
“I don’t get high anymore,” he said.
I did a double take. Trey was the one who introduced me to marijuana back in our freshman year. Back then, everybody thought Trey was a compulsive liar. His tales were too tall, tawdry and wild. Although you might like to try some of the things Trey talked about, we knew nobody got the chance to do all the things he said he did. He told tales about pot parties. He spoke of ménage a trois. He talked about orgies.
All my life I had heard that if you smoked marijuana, you became a drug addict. Instantly hooked. “That’s bullshit,” Trey responded, when I mindlessly repeated my parents’ warning. “It’s just a high.”
Since I knew he was pulling my leg, I played along. “What’s it like?”
“What’s what like?”
“The high. Do you have a hangover afterwards?”
“No, when it’s over, it’s over. You might be a little groggy--like right after you awaken from a deep sleep. That’s it.”
At first I fought my curiosity but I eventually gave in. I asked some of my other friends if they had tried it. No, they said. They didn’t want to become junkies, didn’t want to go to jail. Trey, they pointed out, was a bullshit artist at the top of his craft. I shared their impression of Trey with him.
“Yeah, Pierce,” Trey said, brushing it off. “There’s this party Saturday night. Why don’t you hang with me? Check it out.”