In the building there I work there is a cinderblock staircase painted a very bright, very penetrating shade of yellow. The concrete steps are painted grey; there are no windows, and for a number of turns and landings between the fifth and third floors there are no doors, either, so for a long stretch you circle around and around as you descend, and there’s no way out. This makes me, at least, think existential thoughts.
The upper flowers are solid yellow, with only a few calligraphic flourishes here and there, graffitied in black marker. Drawings and words start to collect between the fifth and fourth, and by the time you’ve descended to the third the walls are full of images and words.
D moved to Kingston, On the same month I moved to London, On. The second apartment he had there was right downtown on Princess Street, the tallest building in Kingston, a stack of early-70s brutalist boxes that steadfastly resists gentrification or modernization. It’s called Princess Towers. On the ground floor you can get poutine from a place named Bubba’s, and there are a half-dozen bars are on that block and the next.
Inside, the apartments have been remodeled with the cheapest, ugliest fixtures available at Home Depot, made of that special particle board with white veneer, the kind that warps slowly and inevitably every time water drips from the faucet or the pipes. D’s front door had a two inch gap under it, through which he heard at night the flip-flopped pacing of Queen’s students who carried their fast-food packaging through the fire door to the garbage slot. The slamming doors—one out, one back usually after midnight—meant he knew their garbage-disposal habits, as he knew their pre-drinking habits and what time they got home on Sunday mornings. When we talked on the phone I could hear the metallic echo of slamming fire-doors all the way across the province.
I spend a lot of time working in libraries and coffee shops (which is where I meet my insect friends) because D and I share the World’s Tiniest Apartment and until last week, neither of us had an office. I like working in public, most of the time. There are good days, like today, when all the noise blends into a buzz, so I don’t distinguish talk from traffic from milk-foamers from espresso machines from Starbucks Greatest Hits (lately: Joni Mitchell’s “California” which is a relief after “We Are Young” by fun. which was on repeat all last winter). I get a lot done on those days.
Other times I’m not so lucky and my brain pingpongs around the room. I can’t stop myself from listening to what I hear, and often remembering it. Long stories. Arguments. Career planning. Personal injury. In-jokes. Hook-ups. Detailed accounts of really terrible relationships. At least one very very unsuccessful job interview, and a few good-sounding ones.
I like to know where I am. I grew up in a valley, on an island off the south coast of British Columbia. I learned to find my way on what were once logging roads, pinched between Satellite Channel and Saanich Inlet to the northeast, and the hills and mountains of the Vancouver Island Ranges on the west, north and south. Wherever you are in the Cowichan Valley you can find your way by looking up at mountains whose names you know: Tzhouhalem or Provost, the Malahat, Mount Baker and the Olympics on the American mainland, Mount Newton on Saltspring Island, across the channel. Vancouver was the same, with “mountains” always meaning “north” in my neighbourhood.
Of course, bed bugs are a problem in other Canadian cities. I’ve woken up to red welts on my arms and legs before now, in both Victoria and Vancouver. It’s hard not to notice that we’re in the middle of a bed bug “epidemic” in many major cities. “Recolonization” seems like a better word, though, as this temporary respite from bedbugs is a sixty-year, first-world aberration from the rest of human history. They seem to me like an antique problem, but I know they were always with us, in the pesticide-resistant reservoirs of the third world. Continue reading
Goin’ Down the Road is a 1970 film about two knuckleheads—that’s director Donald Shebib’s word—from Cape Breton who head to Toronto for something better than they had at home: work, opportunity, money, sex. The movie is iconic, and I’ve known about it all my life, but I really started thinking about it when we planned our move to Toronto. Our situation isn’t much like Pete and Joey’s, but our combination of joblessness and expectation made me feel close to them. Continue reading
My first visit to Toronto was a ninety-minute layover between Vancouver and Montreal. I got in to Pearson before 6am, so it was still the-middle-of-the-night (PST), and all the coffee shops were closed. I had tried to sleep, but the night was very short and brightly lit, and somewhere over the Great Lakes I had seen the sunrise. When I looked out the window of the lounge I saw a landscape of tarmac, with the distances hazed over. There was an enormous pile of refuse from some construction project. Then I boarded a plane to Montreal.
My second visit to Toronto was a layover, too. We spent the time between trains at Union Station, eating hotdogs from one of the carts on Front Street.
In the first four years I lived in Ontario I spent less than a week in this city, including more layovers at Pearson or Union station. Last winter we moved here, and I suddenly found myself living in Canada, the one I’d seen in TV, or read about. I was surprised to see the CN Tower looming at the end of a street, to look up and see MuchMusic’s corner of Queen West, or De Grassi Street on a sign. This was CBC Canada, and Globe-and-Mail Canada, where people say “aboot” and have cabins on Georgian Bay and along the line of smokey hills the crimson forest stands. It was strange to see that the postcard version of Canada was a real place.
I’ve wanted to start a blog for years, and my arrival in this version of Canada seems like a good place to start. Welcome to Toronto!