Toronto: The Cameron House

toronto 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.

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

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.

“It’s more cardio based, no?”
“No, it’s more core based.”

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 If the two verses of a song are devotion and action, knowledge is its chorus.

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?”

This multicultural pop group is beloved by children. It is headed by a man who doesn’t know sex without violence.

Her kitten disappears into the country night. She tries to disappear into the country night but her daughter apprehends her. In a desperate gesture of resistance she bites her daughter.

In his younger years he finds solace watching old men play lawn bowling on the immaculate green. Now an old man himself he finds pain and confusion at every turn.

“This has another ending full of innocent children”

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 happy music. I find them as jarring and incongruous as the siren passing outside. “That’s why the lady is a tramp.”

Julie and I discover jazz at the Rex when students from the Seneca music programme are here blowing the roof off.

“Aint that a kick in the head.”

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. I tell her the password is “piet.” I’m thinking of Mondrian. She thinks I’m making fun of her piety.

Mount Pleasant Cemetery is where our friendship dies. We walk amongst the tombstones as he enumerates my sins.

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 last year that she has died.

The Rose and Crown. Sheila asks for everyone’s phone number. I grab her datebook and put three stars beside my name. A little later I go to the washroom. When I come out she is standing in front of the men’s washroom waiting for me. “So, those three stars… was that a joke or did you mean it?”

Ben and Erin are sleeping over. I get up at four in the morning and realize they’re no longer in the apartment. I get dressed and begin searching the neighborhood. I keep thinking that Ben’s mom will never forgive me if anything happens to him. I call the police and as they’re standing in the apartment asking questions, Ben and Erin walk in.

The movers have taken everything. I’m sitting on the floor in an empty apartment waiting for Robb. As we’re leaving I start to weep. Robb gives me a warm embrace as only he can.

Toronto: Horseshoe Tavern

toronto I come to the Horseshoe to see Pursuit of Happiness. Moe Berg once watched me play table hockey at a party at Mark’s place. 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?”

I come to the Horseshoe to see Prairie Oyster. I also see Prairie Oyster during Bea Arthur Night at the Ukrainian Labour Temple.

“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 and it is the last time I see Lisa before she dies. I walk out without saying goodbye.