Tommy Bissonnette left the Quebec backwoods—and a term of incarceration
during which he was subjected to criminally long periods of solitary
confinement—at age 17 to follow his star.
He packed a bag and went to Montreal, where, at the time, a decade and a half
ago, they still knew how to make a cold place hot. You needed to book a room
months in advance or you were out of luck. It was then a Mecca for anyone
seeking relief from the homogenizing obsession that in other places had
assiduously swept away many people's dreams in favor of mainstream hegemony.
It was in that anti-Puritanic paradise, that heavenly Gomorrah, that land of
rare opportunity—"We do not want to be like Americans," Quebeckers often used
to tell me—that Tommy hooked up with Nevada Knockout (my nickname for an
American he met there and quickly became attached to). Shortly thereafter Tommy
moved from Quebec to Las Vegas to be with his first heartthrob, and in the hope
of enjoying a lifestyle to which he was not accustomed.
Knockout spoke only English and Tommy spoke pretty much only French, but Tommy
acquired English very quickly, and entirely on his own, so completely in fact
that when I first met him about 5 years later I assumed English was his native
From what I know of the Las Vegas interlude it was a passionate affair on both
sides, but a rather rocky and short-lived one, concluding with Tommy's heart
being re-started at a nearby hospital after a quarrel with Knockout caused him
to retaliate by swallowing a bottleful of oxycontin.
Subsequently he lived in Manhattan and Miami and made a living as a stage
performer, starting his act shirtless but always ending déshabillé, doubtless
much to the delight of his audiences and especially to those among them who
became his hosts and patrons, since at the time, he has told me, he was hauling
in cash by the bagloads on a weekly basis. He was able to afford flashy cars and
nice apartments, and for a poor boy from rural Quebec it must've felt quite
exciting to be living like a king or a movie star. Which reminds me that he also
performed some rather demanding flick-roles after his 4-year sojourn in the US
ended and he returned to Quebec, where he has spent most of his time since.
Tommy was never afraid of recreational drugs. He in fact was what I call the
graduating kind of addict, one inclined to keep "movin' on up" the drug ladder,
substance by substance, toward ever more thrilling heights (and to
proportionally less and less thrilling depths). Finally he had advanced so
far that he was in over his head. After a series of medical crises, one of them
involving kidney failure and 6 weeks on dialysis, and an encounter or two with
the law, he went back to the country to be near his family and try to dry out
and recover his former composure and a more circadian rhythm of existence. His
parents, both of whom I know from meetings and conversations, have always been
there for Tommy and still are.
Currently Tommy is looking for less glamorous work. Anyone hiring? Hopefully
he will find something interesting enough to keep boredom and lack of funds from
reviving the soar-and-crash cycle that left him bleeding in the desert before,
with no help on the horizon and only hospital, jail or the cemetery to look
forward to. In the poems below, Tommy definitely knows whereof he speaks.
We are all in the same game
Just different levels
Dealing with the same hell
Just different devils...
The Addiction Affliction
The addiction affliction
Runs deep within my core
and always obliges when I call
for one last "little" encore.