Women, children, joggers, smokers, hot dog sellers, construction workers, pigeons—the whole world passes you by when you stand on the street corner long enough. Part One of this report appeared in Geist 86.
On the streetcar, headed for Queen and Victoria. The forecast: clearing this evening. Low 18º.
Four children in yellow T-shirts, a young man with headphones, a girl with long straight red hair, a man with a plaid shirt and a shaved head. A family: mother and daughter in sparkly saris, father and son dressed like me. The girls in the yellow T-shirts stare at the girl in the sari. On the forearm of the girl with red hair: a carp.
I like to see a big woman with a stroller when the stroller is filled with toys, when the toys are still in their boxes.
In the news shop in the middle of the block, a man in scrubs buys lotto tickets for his group, the soft trill of his voice, his companions. Somali?
Metropolitan United Church, among the chess players. A man with a flame on the bill of his cap.
I can predict his moves, but not the moves of his opponent, who, playing black, treats a bishop like a knight while fleeing a pawn. A brilliant move. Illegal. A bishop cannot jump.
One table over: speed slap, chess slap, quick slap, moves. Two dozen men surrounding four tables. Three women ride by on bicycles; they are moved by unseen hands on the diagonal.
The street is shaded now, also on the diagonal.
A man with a brush cut walks by carrying a long case; such a case is made for a stringed instrument, one with a long neck. The case has a bulbous tip. For a small resonator, like a penis.
A boy reservist passes by in camouflage; we see him in spite of his camouflage; his duffel bags are as big as he is. He seems embarrassed.
A girl with a yoga mat strapped like a quiver to her back; a huntress, she holds her boyfriend’s hand.
Oh, please, Diana.
No one in the park is going to the theatre. The park is the theatre.
A crack addict spends a long time lighting a smoke. He walks along with quick half-steps, getting nowhere doubly slow. A young woman gives him a wide berth. His left leg is stiff, his right knee buckles, his left hand holds a sack, his right hand holds his smoke. He waves his right hand as he walks as if some, but not all, of his strings have been cut.
There are seventeen cigarette butts on the manhole cover.
A man with animal-tail hair enters the burger joint on the corner; the light at the corner changes, bird-whistle chirps.
Two men dragging dollies loaded with extension cords, ladders, lamps, acetylene tanks and torches. A long day.
A man with a flaming cap is being pressed at the chess table; his game is being crushed. Across the street, the man with animal-tail hair yells, “SMILE!” As if, or else.
The man who is winning the chess game sits in a scooter with an awning and considers his moves.
Two sirens. The flaming cap man wears a satin jacket, black, All-Star Truck Brokers. A woman approaches him without a word and gives him fifty cents for a smoke. “Someone robbed McDonald’s!”
There is a cop car at the curb. The cop is writing a ticket. Where is the animal-hair man?
A man approaches a tree. He pushes his hips forward, unzips, and pisses against the bark. His smoke, his business, dangling.
A woman says: “She was slower than the coming of Christ. All I wanted to do was use the washroom.
I wasn’t going to steal it.”
No one is in a hurry now. Dates have started, and the dateless have no need to rush; the 501 is full both ways. The drivers ring their bells as they pass.
The fellow I thought was a crack addict with bum legs is a woman, walking across the street as if wading in a neck-deep river, the current pushing her sideways, the muck sucking her feet.
The tension leaks out of the city, a balloon losing air.
Four girls, arm in arm.
A street saxophone in the distance.
Girls: if the odds are that one won’t find one tonight, what are the odds that four will find four? Or do the three protect the one?
ON YONGE ST.
A man with a porkpie hat carries two large lampshades home. From the street sax, a song in the air: “Que, Sera Sera”? Hard to tell. Soprano sax? Hard to tell.
A tourist with a camera.
“Where is City Hall?”
“A block or so that way.”
“Oh, thank you.”
And all the Chinese kids: I want to tell them that in grade school, the nuns told us the last secret revealed to the children at Fatima was this: the yellow race will rule the world. I am ashamed.
A boy with a cast on his right hand. The street has a pulse: a small woman, pulse, blue shirt, pulse, grey bag, red slacks, pulse. Safety orange nails: We are platelets in the bloodstream of the city.
An Asian boy, his T-shirt: I ♥ big butts. His girlfriend has a small one.
A man in a group of men: “I have fifteen different accounts.”
A clerk in a sack dress unlocks her bike at the lamppost and walks it down the street.
I was right: the musician with the brush cut is playing a soprano sax. I was wrong: the peculiar case with the swelling at the tip is not for a resonator, nor for a penis, but for the bell of the sax.
Heavy on the hook, the player wears white sneakers, a tan ball cap, green strides, a white shirt with blue-and-white stripes, buttoned at the collar.
“The Way We Were.”
A thug rolling by in a truck playing rap: rap is the way we are.
The sax man adjusts his reed for a medley: “Comin’ Thro’ The Rye,” “Love Is Blue.” No one pays him, or pays him any mind, until a man on a scooter—“My Heart Will Go On”—drops some coins in the case; whatever will be, will be.
I buy a four-dollar cup of orange juice and drink it while watching a woman, well-dressed, with well-packed shopping bags, going through the trash.
A woman with a broken foot. A slim man with highlights in his hair and knee pants and cherry espadrilles, stared at by those big-hipped girls. A green Wasteco truck, racing south, a young worker hanging off the back with one hand, leaning out into the breeze, in safety orange.
No one sits on downtown balconies tonight.
Five cleaners sit between the statues of five rusting men; then one cleaner stands and says something and all the men but the rusted ones laugh.
If you aren’t doing it by now on Friday night, you won’t do it at all.
I can’t sit still.
Metropolitan United Church: “This Cathedral of Methodism was designed by Henry Langley in the High Victorian Gothic style. The cornerstone was laid by the Rev. Egerton Ryerson, D.D., in 1870 and the church was dedicated in 1872. It replaced an earlier structure at the southeast corner of Adelaide and Toronto Sts. The first missionaries from Canada to Japan were commissioned in this church on May 7, 1873, The inaugural service of the Methodist Church of Canada was held here September 16, 1874, blah, blah.
Also the first gay marriage in the country, here. There should be a plaque for that.
The faint sound of the soprano sax: Ochi chernye, “O Dark Eyes.”
The street lights are on. The man with the flaming cap loses a game; he was strangled as slowly as he strangled others. The victor: “Another game?” Flaming cap lost with white, so he sets up the black pawns without a word.
A father with his son has custody of a sack of takeout food.
Three young women in a row, a fourth, fifth, sixth. “Greensleeves.” A seventh.
Two men pushing a floor polisher, carrying a bucket, holding two bottles of spray: the tools of the evening.
A triplet of burkas.
A man sits next to me, smoking a furious cigarette; he is ordinary in appearance—sneakers, cut-off jeans, a muscle shirt, a red beard—but he is wearing red satin devil’s horns. He wants me to notice.
Two reservists, girls, in camo; one eats ice cream from a dish, the other carries a cold drink.
There is the woman who was going through the trash; she has found two pieces of good cardboard, her mattress for the night.
The way we talk at night, and the way we walk: slowly, with easy gestures.
I need a bite to eat. Fran’s, the banquet burger. What else would anyone eat at Fran’s, other than the grilled cheese—fuck you, Glenn Gould—or the meat loaf? I cannot say the words “banquet burger.” The words are without irony. Instead, I point at the menu, and ask for a ginger ale as well.
At a banquette: an old man drinks coffee next to a woman wearing shades: her skin is tight on her face, her hair is pulled back hard; she eats an ice cream. They sit side by side; he is far enough away, but he is expansive enough to suggest that he owns her. He has a fierce face, like a hawk or a dying man.
At the table in front of me, a family of four: the two boys have their mother’s long nose, and brush cuts.
The banquet burger is as it always was. The couple with the kids lean into each other with intimacy and affection; it is good for kids to see love. The kids order sundaes, elaborate and cherry-topped; when the sundaes are delivered, the kids look quickly sideways to see if anyone else can see how lucky they are. I know that look: luck, and hunger.
Fran’s shares a washroom with the piano bar of the hip hotel next door; the girl singer is good—I can hear her as I unzip—but the piano is out of tune.
Outside again: Motorcycles, like loud insects. And muscle cars, like eaters of loud insects. The cleaners unload their gear in the alley beside Massey Hall. One of the chess players has left the game and is going home.
A girl buys juice; a boy buys coffee. Four minivans in a row.
The floor polishers have polished their floors. There are six empty cardboard coffee cups on the bench that holds the rusting men.
My Fran’s mint: green and white stripes, mint.
Six teens, singing Italian pop songs, heading for the subway, carrying their backpacks. A tour bus. An ice cream truck.
A woman with dreadlocks asks if I have any change; when I hesitate, she offers to sell me a subway token for $3. A cash fare is $2.75. “Are you looking to score?” “I’m looking for food.”
She is too tired, and maybe too hungry, to be grateful for the fiver I give her. “How come you’re jammed up tonight?” She says, “That’s me on the wall of the hospital.” An angel, in a jam.
The juice joint closes. The church bell rings.
Two big bearded men sit on the planter across the street where I was sitting yesterday; now they stand, they stretch, they spit and they look up, and they sip their drinks through straws. They hold bags of burgers.
They shake hands, pick up their briefcases and go home.
The juice joint girl yawns as she cleans up. I, too, yawn.
A couple with twins in a carriage come for doughnuts in the coffee shop; the twins are alert. A man in shorts and sandals, a cast on his right hand, a cell phone in his left, in the darkness.
510 WESTBOUND, JAMMED
If you sit still long enough, you will notice that you are noticed.
A man asks for money with an eyebrow. I answer with a shrug: the angel has my money.
When I was young, at a dance, stoned on acid, I thought if I stood in one place long enough I’d see who was passing by, who was looking for whom. And I would steer them toward happiness. I couldn’t. I can’t.
A man pulls up in a car; a woman, in heels—where was she, who is she?—gets in.
In the distance, in the darkness, a big happy woman aims herself at me as surely as an arrow on a lazy sunny day. “Dear, have you got a token?” “A token?” “I’ve been drinking, they took away my keys.”
I give her the token I bought from the angel. She sits down and exhales. “You’re a dear.”
“What’s the occasion?”
“I’m celebrating. It’s my fifty-fourth birthday.”
“Happy birthday. You married?”
“Where’s your man?”
“He’s home. I slammed the door on him. I got the menopause. I get upset so easily. I told him I was kicking him out, and then I left.” She’s laughing as she says this.
“What’s his name?”
“My name’s Joe.” That makes her happy. She catches her breath. She is not sweating or perspiring; she’s blushing. She says she works as a baker: gets up early mornings, drives to Peterborough with the windows open, even in the winter.
“How long you been married?”
“We’ve been married thirty-five years.” She pauses happily. “And, to this day, when I run the bubble bath and say I want to cuddle, he still comes.”
She says she is Oneida. We talk about menopause, and the heat comes over her in waves. Does she have a doctor? She says she does. She says her doctor won’t give her anything but herbs for menopause, which is why, close to midnight, near a streetcar stop, the city columnist and the Native woman begin to talk about hormone replacement therapy. I say, “You have to live your life.” She says she will look into that.
She says her sister is troubled, and will come to live with her soon. She says she comes from a big family. She says she will make room. She says Joe won’t mind.
She tells me she knows someone who is in jail for killing eight bikers and stuffing them into the trunk of a car, and she mentions his name, and I remember his name, and this is not a thing you hear every day, after a conversation about menopause. I’m sweating now, and change the topic.
“Do you and Joe have kids?
“We have got thirteen kids and none of them are in jail, for which I kiss Jesus’s ass. Excuse me, God.”
She says, “I have to pee and get a cup of coffee, use the washroom, take the streetcar home.” I wish her happy birthday. She shakes my hand and kisses my cheek. I love a happy woman.
Just then an addict, hand out, looms. “It’s my birthday, do you have any money?” She and I say no. The addict turns away. She says, “I saw him on the corner doing crack.” And then she says, loudly, to his back: “Hey, I’m sorry for your lifestyle choices, pal.” We hug again, and her cheeks are flushed. I remind her: “HRT.” “I’ll look into that.” “You got to live your life.” “You do. I do.”
“Good night.” She goes. I stay.
The street is almost empty. A boy and a girl, drunk; they argue until she walks across the street and hails a cab. He follows and tries to get in the cab with her. She pushes him back, they quarrel. A cyclist stops, turns in his saddle: “Hey, you need a cop?” The girl gets in. The boy backs off. The cyclist pedals home.
Click, click: high heels. A girl with a topknot, long earrings, gaudy makeup, tights, a loose black top, a big black shoulder bag, a bottle of Pellegrino in her hand. She makes a call with her cellphone. She smiles at me. She could be a working girl, or she might work in the theatre. A man approaches, leers in her direction, veers over and asks her if she has the time; she steps back, shakes her head. He asks me. I tell him.
IT IS 11:25. QUEEN CAR EAST, STANDING ROOM ONLY
She drops her Pellegrino on the pavement. The water spills; the bottle does not break. She stands in the puddle until a big silver car makes a U-turn, pulls up to the curb, and she gets in. I hear Latin music as the door opens. She leans into the driver as he pulls away. A showgirl, then.
A quick last walk around the block. A black man on the sidewalk has a technicolour tattoo on his left arm. An ad on the streetcar shelter: Peace Of Mind. The chess games continue in the park. One of the players smokes a joint.
Three men in hospital gowns, asleep in wheelchairs under the gaze of the angel.
The water on the sidewalk evaporates.