Look at my Hermit

“Sorry brain, back in the freezer.”

This is what I say when it’s time to go out in the Montreal winter. At -30°C, you become aware that your physical brain might not be having a terrific time.

That’s not really acceptable in the civilized world, is it? You should never be put in a situation where you’re moved to apologise to your brain.

When my brain didn’t complain about the cold today, I felt genuine concern. Had it died? Had Quebec murdered my brain?

No. Something was different. The snow was melting. Green buds had appeared on the trees. All around, I could hear the rumbling tummies of a million defrosted tardigrades.

Were we above zero? Spring! Spring was here!

“Spring is here, old woman!” I said to an old woman.

Va chier,” she said (or in English: “Rejoice, rose-cheeked young sirrah!”)

“Spring is here, bedraggled pigeon!”

Coo,” said the pigeon, perched on a plastic owl.

“Spring is here, plastic owl!”

The plastic owl looked pissed off.

A small man with a bushy beard and a red cycle helmet was standing and stinking on the street corner with a can of something called Pabst Blue Ribbon.

On seeing him, I stopped dead in my tracks. Scrotters? It was Scrotters! His presence was as surprising and wonderful as the spring itself.

My instinct was to plant a big wet kiss on his mouth and say “Spring is here, Scrotters, old friend, and–what’s more–I love you!” but kissing a tramp is inadvisable even if you’re a tramp yourself.

Besides, “Scrotters” is probably not his real name, merely the one I’ve rather offensively given him in the privacy of my head.

If only there were some way to learn his real name. But there’s not.

I’d been worried about Scrotters and it was a relief to see him after such a long time. He’d disappeared from his corner four months earlier, mysteriously replaced by a far-stinkier and more aggressive tramp. The new tramp’s secret name was Lion Man because he looked like a lion and ate raw meat.

Lion Man, I imagined, had frightened Scrotters away and stolen his lucrative corner.

I didn’t think the battle for the corner had been too bloody, just that Scrotters had been forced to move along by a trampier tramp. After all, Scrotters had that helmet. He was indestructible.

All the same, I didn’t like Lion Man. When I didn’t give him money, I got the impression he was silently hating me. Scrotters, under the same circumstances, would always growl and call me a shit owl, but there was never any malice in it.

Before his disappearance, Scrotters rarely if ever left his corner, which provided our neighbourhood with a welcome sense of certainty. Lion Man, on the other hand, spent half of his time on the opposite side of the street, spreadeagle on the ground, catching snowflakes.

You never knew what to expect with Lion Man. It was chaos.

Before the tramp replacement, we’d always been able to see Scrotters from our kitchen window. Every morning, his helmet would catch the bleary eye across the granola.

Each day, one of us would remark to the other something along the lines of “Oh look, someone’s bought Scrotters a massive pizza,” or “Oh look, Scrotters is wearing his cross-country skis.”

When I arrived back home today, I was very excited to report to my girlfriend that our favourite tramp was safely back on his corner of choice.

“Scrotters is back!” I said.

“Scrotters?” she said, “Where do you suppose he’s been?”

For a brief moment I wondered if his triumphant return was actually a tragedy. What if Lion Man had been nothing to do with his absence and Scrotters had actually been living in a luxuriously-carpeted house for four months but he’d lost it all again and wound up back on the corner.

“He must be the summer tramp,” I said, dismissing the rags-to-riches-and-back-to-rags-again story I’d witnessed in my head like Captain Picard in The Inner Light, “Lion Man must be the winter tramp.”

“Of course,” she said sarcastically, “Lion Man can withstand the winter because of his glorious mane. Scrotters probably goes down to Florida. He’s a snowbird.”

“See for yourself,” I said pointing out of the window, “One Scrotters.”

There he was. Standing on the corner, as was his way, like a stranded astronaut. A harbinger of spring. Skinny with his red cycle helmet, from this distance he looked like a safety match.

“Are you sure it’s him? Lion Man didn’t nick his helmet?”

“Nah, it’s Scrotters,” I said. “He’s unmistakable.”

“Aw. Prince of Tramps,” she said, finally getting into the spirit of things.

“The Original and Best,” I said.

“Captain Corner,” she said.

“The Pedigree Chum,” I said.

“Can we stop talking about Scrotters now?” she said.

“Okay, I said.”

I was glad he came back though. From now on, I’m going to give him a coin every single time I pass him. I’m also going to pretend I’m a wealthy country gent and that Scrotters is my personal hermit. “Look,” I’ll say to visitors, “look at my hermit.”

And there he’ll be.

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