Grade 4 was a fine time. After spending Grade 3 getting accustomed to yet another new school, new surroundings, and making new friends (for the third time in four years), I was finally feeling comfortable somewhere.
NDG is really an ideal place to learn how to live; I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else but Notre-Dame-de-Grâce school for most of my elementary education, nor to also live in the area during my high school years. You've got a decent mix of rich and poor, French and English, and enough visible minorities to teach you that viewing them as different types of humans would be wrong and learning their customs and fitting them into your life if you so choose is feasible.
So when it came to Grade 4, in addition to my neighbours, I had a few good friends I liked to hang out with at school: Philippe-Michel Whitehead, Alexandre Benoît, Bum Min Kim (all holdover friendships from Grade 3) - and Sylvain Mondello. It was also the year I stopped just looking at girls and started talking to them and hanging out with them. Oh, and I had a freak teacher, but that can wait for a later post, too, because I also got her in Grade 5...
So back to Sylvain. Out of all my friends, he was the most like me: borderline rebel, but with a good heart, always good for a laugh and fun time. Philippe, to compare, was a cleaner little kid, but he listened to metal (Iron Maiden was his choice band), while Alexandre was into rap (bad rap at first, luckily it developed into a love for House Of Pain and Cypress Hill, but at first it was terrible). Bum Min was a case of his own. I don't even remember what Sylvain used to listen to, and it's fine that way.
We shared a love for pop culture before we even knew it'd be helpful later in life; we'd make fun of TV ads, satirize TV shows, could talk about movies and sports - all at the tender age of 10. Which made the classes in school pretty dull - they weren't as entertaining as TV - heck, they weren't even as entertaining as we were. We soon became the class clowns, me more than he, but it soon got us both in trouble.
When the teacher made the mistake of seating both of us at the end of the class, it didn't do much good - every single word she said we turned into a double-entendre, saying it loud enough for the whole class to hear; suddenly, we were two stand-up comics excelling at improv in front of a whole audience. By the end of the week, Sylvain was still at the back of the class, but I was right in front, not even in a row, no: stuck to the teacher's desk like as if our desks were conjoined twins.
It was about that time that she set us up with some sort of counselor; to this day, I'm still unsure whether he was the school psychologist or guidance counselor - but he was now in charge of our individual cases. Each day, for a whole month, we had to colour a grid that represented a calendar of sorts in either red (bad), yellow (meh) or green (good), depending on how we'd behaved that day - and have it signed by the teacher (who also had to pick a colour for us), the principal, and our parents; if it wasn't green, we needed to write down the reasons why we hadn't been good, how we'd slipped (and why), and what was needed to correct the situation. If any one element was missing (one person's signature, one explanation that didn't match), we'd get suspended; if it happened again, we'd get expelled. And at the end of the month, if a certain number of non-greens occurred, it also could spell expulsion.
The first week was mostly green, with one yellow. It was fine, and all parties were happy with the situation. Determined to not have to have this system run my life for the remainder of my elementary school years (and perhaps even high school, since they said this was going on 'my permanent record'), and realizing having a yellow in there didn't seem to faze anyone, I tried to balance being a clown with being an attentive nerd (my hand was always raised answering her questions, most times with the correct answer, sometimes with a joke or a pun, many times with both), and I must've done a pretty good job, because some times I'd colour my square yellow but the teacher would colour hers green. Sylvain, on the other hand, couldn't juggle the situation as well as I did and got into a bit more trouble.
He had a knack for getting in trouble, even in the schoolyard. There was this kid named Leano, obviously of Italian descent, a bit chubby stomach-wise but a huge ass - he was a year older than us. At the time, there was an ad on TV for a furniture chain called Leon's and their ad was a remake of David Lee Roth's ''I Ain't Got Nobody'', with the words changed to ''I Ain't Got No Money'', as they offered to hand you their merchandise without paying anything for a full year, interest-free, which I guess was unheard of at the time. Anyhow, Sylvain had the bright idea to change the words to ''Ahhh, Leano bandé'', which, in Québec French, roughly translates to Leano's got a boner, which in and of itself makes no sense and is harmless, but Leano didn't take it so lightly and tried to pick a fight with Sylvain; I had to interfere and contain him while his friends (who, thanks to my playing hockey with them were also my friends, especially this HUGE and STRONG black guy named Trexis Griffin) tried to calm him down. Recess only lasted 15 minutes, but that particular one seemed to last over an hour.
And speaking of recess, I'm not sure if this one happened before or after our colour-coded Month Of Niceness - although it was probably after because of the end result - but there was one time where we went to school one morning, as usual, but at recess decided to bolt. We had had enough, we wanted the day off, and we just fucked off to his place, which was a couple of blocks away from school. The big mistake had been to go in at first, since we had registered as being 'present'; us not being there after recess made it more of a ''missing persons'' case rather than just ''absenteeism'', so our parents were notified right away rather than perhaps eventually. Shit came to a head when the phone started ringing at his place with school, parents and cops calling. We both got a good yelling that night.
I'm not sure if it's because we'd gathered at his place, or if it was because I had the better grades - or perhaps they even did the good cop/bad cop routine to both of us using the same arguments - but an intervention of sorts was planned for me where my teacher, the principal, the councellor and my parents were all telling me that I had a terrific future ahead of myself, to be careful not to throw it all away, and that Sylvain was a bad influence on me.
Now, I wouldn't want to claim to be the ''brain behind the operation'', by any means, but to think that someone, in my life, would have been influential in any way regarding my actions... well, that just can't happen. I'm the type of guy who opens his fridge without even as much as an idea of what he wants in there - nor even a faint recollection of what's still in there. I live two blocks from my subway station and never even know what route I'm going to take and what streets I'm going to cross until I get there. I don't see anyone being able to help make my mind up, not now, not then, not ever. The only ''influential'' people I've met have been my mother, a few teachers, fewer people whose intellect I would respect - people who would show me what's right from what's wrong, even if I didn't always choose the 'right' path - and reading biographies and trying not to repeat every mistake in the book. That's it.
Still, we laid low(er) in class, and in the schoolyard for the rest of the year. We were still funny, but much of the actual 'fun' had dissipated. When the school year ended, he moved to Ville St-Pierre, changed schools, and I never heard from him again. I might have found him on Facebook, though...