Toronto: Swatow

toronto I’m at the Swatow for a bowl of hot and sour soup. It arrives radioactive orange and viscous.

I see Mark across the street. I wave and then dart through traffic toward him. I see his partner, Alison, for the first time. She smiles as if she finds me vaguely amusing. Mark and Alison introduce me to the Swatow.

David introduces me to his brother, Kelly. Kelly takes us to an exclusive dance bar. Kelly convinces the doorman to let us in, bypassing the long line of people waiting to be admitted. I hide in the darkest corner I can find while coloured lights energetically scan the club, threatening to expose me. I meet David and Kathleen at the Swatow.

Wyn confesses that he doesn’t find East Asian babies to be attractive. I offend him when I jokingly accuse him of being a racist. Wyn and I share a large bowl of hot and sour soup at the Swatow.

Toronto: Monarch Park

toronto We are suffering through one of the hottest summers in memory. Catherine calls me to say that, although her local pool is supposed to close at 6:00 PM, they are extending the hours to 10:00 PM to help the neighbourhood cope with the heat. She and her son Ben are going to spend the evening there and she asks me if i’d like to join them.  I take the TTC from my apartment near Bathurst and St Clair and meet them at Monarch Park.

Catherine, Ben and I live in a house just the other side of the tracks from Monarch Park. It is the dead of winter and Ben and I decide to go tobogganing in the park. There is a hill behind the pool that is only about 20 feet tall but surprisingly steep. Immediately upon reaching the bottom your sled is propelled up a facing incline which aborts your momentum but allows you to end your run with a sharp u-turn.  Ben and I take the tunnel under the tracks to reach the park. We keep an eye out for one of our three cats who are always exploring the neighbourhood. Their names are Luna, Beasty and Fuzzball.

There are a dozen dogs playing in the fall leaves on our toboggan hill.

Toronto: Victory Cafe

toronto I’m standing outside the Victory giving John a hard time about his wedding plans. I’m being inconsiderate and unreasonable. John has just told me they have found a priest and a church. I’m mortified. “But John, you guys aren’t Christian and religion is evil. How can you do this?” John patiently explains about Anne’s family and their expectations. He also cites Liberation Theology as a branch of Christianity that isn’t evil. I am having none of it.

I am honoured to read at John’s wedding. I sit by the lake practicing my lines. “These days you might feel a shaft of light make its way across your face.”

John and Anne are married in Coldwater. Near the church there is a man with a foot in Coldwater. He is enshrined in a small painting, given to Wyn. My wedding gift to John and Anne is a painting on a cupboard door featuring my maternal grandfather, their cottage window, and the lake. A small tree branch is attached with a hinge.


Ten Cities: The Past Is Present is an invitation for the past to engage in dialogue with the present. Wayne Johnston is visiting ten sites in each of ten cities that have had a formative impact on his life. The encounters are captured through writing that might be described as prose poetry, creative nonfiction or postcard stories. The text is supplemented with a drawing in each site.