Toronto: The Cameron House

toronto A heroin overdose silences Handsome Ned before he reaches his 30th birthday.

I am dozing in the car while he has breakfast with the stripper.

He emits sweaty exhortations to repent while knocking back another bourbon. A young Linda Blair is possessed by Keith Moon.

“I thought you went out west to dry out.”

She tells him, with remarkable candour, that she is a prostitute.

Fleming Mackell wins two Stanley Cups and dies at age 86. His daughter, Joanne Mackell, is a dear friend of Handsome Ned. A couple of weeks after Handsome Neds’s death Joanne is performing at Clinton’s. Tears seep from her eyes as she sings “I Shall Be Released.”

Toronto: The Only Cafe

toronto “Hello, is this Wayne Johnston the author?”
“You probably mean Wayne Johnston the novelist. No, that’s not me.”
“Okay. You don’t have any idea how I could find him, do you?”
“I could only suggest you might contact his publisher.”
“Well, now we’ve come full circle because I am his publisher and I’m trying to track him down.”

I am alone on Christmas day. There is no food in the apartment and no grocery stores are open. I go for a walk in the drizzle and manage to find a convenience store where I can buy a tin of tuna. On the way back home I see a woman leaving a house with a coat draped over her arm, her hands held out indicating wet nail polish. Tears are streaming down her face.

“She did crosswords like… let me tell you, she would do five crossword puzzles a day. Now, she may be cognizant of her surroundings but she can’t talk to you. She’s locked in her body.”

The police will not allow us to leave for work as there is an incident across the street. Shots have been fired. The cellist dares to peer out the front window but not before putting a spaghetti pot over her head.

Toronto: Amsterdam Brewhouse

toronto We are drinking Chartreuse by the tumbler at her kitchen table. Carlos comes in and puts his arms around her. I read this as a gesture meant to assert his role.

She comes home late and drunk. She says she unexpectedly ran into Carlos. They went for drinks. During the course of the evening she realized that she still loves him. After she goes to bed I quietly pack a bag and leave.

She has never tried Chartreuse so we order some from the bar. Carlos is at home looking after Ben.

I have just returned from Geneva and I have Swiss chocolates for my co-workers. I go to the office on Sunday to distribute the chocolates. The Executive Director’s door is closed. I decide to open the door and leave a chocolate on her desk but when I open the door I startle her. She rises awkwardly from the floor.

Toronto: Lee’s Palace

toronto Lee’s Palace is dimly lit by multi-coloured orbs that hang from the ceiling. He walks across the floor to speak to me. “My name is Greg. Are you here for the break dance competition?”

In his younger years he found solace watching old men play lawn bowling on the immaculate green, the orbs arranging themselves in random patterns. Now an old man himself he finds pain and confusion at every turn.

The young boy has three balloons. Each balloon has a single word printed on it. The words are “life,” “death,” and “random.” He says “you have to choose.” Then he says “I am a ticking time bomb and I have no idea when I will go off.” Ray leans toward him and earnestly states “you are loved.”

Toronto: The Rex

toronto It’s new years eve. Margaret is dancing with a man she met here this evening. Julie is watching me watching the dancers. Julie gets me up dancing to a slow song. After a minute she says “things don’t always work out the way you want them to.”

Julie wants me to go to Africa with her. I’m game until she tells me her motivation is to get a new perspective on her life. I tell her to go to Sarnia to sort her life out and then I’ll be ready to go with her to Africa. Julie goes to Africa alone and ends up living in Zimbabwe for a number of years.

They won’t look at each other. They won’t speak to each other. They scowl as the Swing Shift Big Band plays “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.” I find them as jarring and incongruous as the siren passing outside.

Toronto: Bloor/Sherbourne to Yonge/Lawrence

toronto It starts with me. Then it is everyone in the building. We soon become aware that this is more widespread, affecting at least part of the city. Public transit is down. I’m forced to walk home as are so many others. The sidewalks are streaming with disconcerted pedestrians. The streets are clogged with slow moving traffic. It being a very hot August day, many cars have their windows down, enabling me to catch snippets of radio reports. This mysterious cloud has mushroomed, encompassing fifty-five million people.

Jeanette is living on Lawton Boulevard with her husband and young daughter. Jeanette feels simultaneously locked in and locked out. I tell her the password is “piet.” I’m thinking of Mondrian. She thinks I’m making fun of her piety.

Sandra invites me to join the ski club. We meet on Merton to take the bus to Blue Mountain. I end up dating her sister until she asks “How will we ever afford to buy a house?” I never see her again. I hear that she has died.

Toronto: Horseshoe Tavern

toronto We start playing table hockey at the Hockey Hall of Fame on our lunch breaks. James does the play-by-play over the intercom during the final match between John and Mark. Then we bring out the actual Stanley Cup and award it to the winner.

Tom and I are walking down Queen Street and Tom has to pee. We happen to be in front of the Horseshoe at the moment. I gesture toward it and say “at the end of the bar, on the left, just past the pool tables.” Tom looks at me incredulously. “Do you know every bar in this city?”

“If they had found my brother alone in his room they would have killed him. And it would have been legal.”

I come to the Horseshoe to see The Skydiggers. John and Lisa have made their way to the front of the room while I hang back on the periphery. Eventually I leave without saying goodbye. It is the last time I see Lisa before she dies.