On the streetcar, I think of the Queen Street of my adolescence, a seedy strip of stores that no one went into, in a town that no one came to, in a section of the universe where the rules of time and space broke down. The opposite of Toronto, where everything was new and went fast and stayed cool. Toronto was, in fact, the coolest place in all the world. My father lived there. Margaret Atwood lived there. Kids who went for the weekend came back with Mohawks and parachute pants and so laden with coolness, and the knowledge of coolness, they could barely move their jaws to eat or speak.
My grandmother wouldn’t allow me to go to Toronto for the weekend. My father lived there. Kids who went came back with Mohawks. Parachute pants were for the birds. She didn’t have an opinion on Margaret Atwood, but had I brought her up as a reason to go, most likely she would have said, “I’ll Margaret Atwood you in a minute.”
Someday I would leave and become a writer in Toronto, but until then I was trapped in the thick temporal-spatial molasses of northern Ontario uncoolness.I began taking bus rides around the Soo for the purposes of passing time while trapped, for the purposes of observing and noting, for the purposes of pretending I was a writer until I could leave to become one. Standing inside the city bus terminal, facing a 28-minute wait for the next Second Line bus, I observed that the bus terminal smelled like stale popcorn. I noted that everyone inside looked chronically depressed or deeply enraged. I was shaken by a sudden desire to weep at the awfulness of my hometown.
It would be many years before I understood it wasn’t the town that was the problem. It was the other part of the word. It would be many years before I understood the word projection.Toronto is not my hometown. I don’t know who Ashbridges Bay was named after, or what went on at Fort York, or where to get the city’s best anything. I still know absolutely nothing about coolness. But Toronto is where I live and work and where I have raised my son. It is the place I came to after I left Bhutan, thinking I would never be happy again.
Toronto is where I am happy again.And therefore, I think, it would behoove me to know it better. Hence this trip to the Beaches. (Yes, I know: it’s singular. They had a referendum. But I’m passing signs: Historic Woodbine Beach, Historic Scarborough Beach, Kew-Balmy Beach. Walking the boardwalk, it’s going to seem like one beach, but historically, numerically, signage-wise, it’s plural. (The Beach is large; it contains multitudes?)
I get off the streetcar at the Intergalactic Headquarters of Art Deco Superheroes. Even clad in scaffolding, the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant soars, a vaulted, streamlined temple of water purification (and also of coolness).The wind is loud and strong, and the lake thinks it’s an ocean here, swelling wildly and crashing over rocks. Dogs gallop across the sand. I envy the occupants of the waterfront homes, maybe not in the sweltering summer when this place must be overrun and noisy, but now, when they can stand at their windows and see nothing but a lake that thinks it’s an ocean.
I walk the boardwalk in the surging wind right to the end. The sun is swaddled in cold cloud. I don’t know what owns this collection of smoke stacks beyond the parking lot. I don’t know if that glimmer of white to the east is the Scarborough Bluffs. I will google everything when I get home.The westbound streetcar is stopped by Occupy protestors. We get off and walk to the subway behind a large group of mostly young people carrying signs: Evict the 1%. A young woman with a megaphone calls out, “Show me what democracy looks like!” The group answers: “This is what democracy looks like.” A drummer keeps the beat.
A disgruntled pedestrian yells, “Go home.”
“I am home,” a protestor yells back.