Bottles For Sale
By: Eric Amber
In Montreal, selling booze without a permit is a kind of sport. How long can you do it, without getting caught? Well, there are a lot of ways but running an illegal Booze Can or ‘Blind Pig’ (as they are sometimes known) can be dangerous.
If you get caught by the police, you might get a fine or go to jail. However, if you get caught by the mafia, you are liable to get killed or if you’re lucky, maybe just get your legs broken. So obviously, the trick is to not get caught.
One thing about running an independent theatre is that not many people walk in randomly off the street. A theatre is what you call a destination location. People go there because they know to. Once people are there, they still may not know you have alcohol on site because there are no signs, no menus and no bottles on display.
In the beginning, before I had my liquor permit, I kept things simple. I sold bottled beer and glasses of wine for three bucks. Cheap enough to keep people drinking and not report me. Then, at the end of each night, I would leave the bottles out on the street for the homeless to take away. That way, I could never be caught with empties on the premises and did my part to help the homeless community.
One night, I put out a case of empties and by the time I and gone inside and come out with another, the first case was already gone. This amused me so much that I made a game of it and began to time how long it took someone to make off with my bottles. The standing record time it took for a case to get picked up was 23 seconds.
After a particularly crazy Vice Magazine party, I was left with over 1000 empty beer bottles that I ditched in my driveway behind the building. It wasn’t long before they were discovered and half removed by someone who left a Hansel and Gretel like trail of bottles down the street. I had to laugh
because who ever it was would have had to climb the fence, feed the bottles through one by one, fill a few good sized stolen shopping carts and push them to the nearest bottle shop.
No easy effort. Oh how hard people work for free money. Who ever it was, must have cursed bloody murder when they learned the bottles were from out of province and not redeemable for money in Quebec.
On another occasion, I set down two cases of empties out on the street (that’s 48 beer bottles) and waited. As I stood in the darkness of the door well, I saw a homeless man walking towards the theatre along the side walk. In his hand was a King Can of beer wrapped in a paper bag (A King Can is almost a full litre of beer).
I watched this guy crack the can, take a drink and as he brought the can down, he spotted the empty bottles. I could see that he instantly recognized what they were. Free bottles. Free bottles, equals Free Money, equals Free Beer!
He looked around to see who else might be aware of this prize. The problem was that he already had a drink in his hand. How was he going to carry the bottles and his beer at the same time? I could see the dilemma on his face. He paced on the spot and scratched his head. What was the obvious solution here?
Drink the beer! So, the homeless man starts gulping beer as fast as he could but it was almost a full litre and half way through, I could see he was having difficulty. He needed a rest. That’s when it occurred to him to sit on the cases.
I continued watching, but I could see the man was slowing down. He was good and drunk and talking to himself. Soon, however, another homeless man came along.
Homeless Man Number One perked up, called Homeless Man Number Two over and offered to sell him the empty bottles he was sitting on.
‘How much?’ said Homeless Man Number Two.
Homeless Man Number Two quietly did the math in his head. 48 bottles times 10 cents each equaled $4.80. To pay $5. would mean a 20 cent net loss!
Instead of walking off, Homeless Man Number Two made a counter offer (because he was clearly a business man).
‘Two bucks for one case’ said Homeless Man Number Two.
‘Deal’ said Homeless Man Number One.
Homeless Man Number One smiled and laughed to himself in satisfaction. Hell, why take back the bottles when he could get half the money and let someone else do the work? Classic French logic.
So, Homeless Man Number One starts advertising his bottles for sale by calling out to people on street. At first from a sitting position, then from a standing position. However, his potential clients were too far away. He needed to get the word out, so he walked to the end of the block to find someone to buy his bottles.
A moment later, Homeless Man Number One returned to find his property was gone. In a flash of fury he threw what was left of his King Can to the ground and cursed god for his misfortune.
To me, this whole event represents Quebec in microcosm. Lazy douche bag scammers, ripping off other lazy douche bag scammers.
In a way, Theatre Ste-Catherine was like living in my own personal reality T.V. show. It was a train wreck, but what a hilarious and beautiful train wreck.