Thursday, March 4, 2010

City of My Youth

I moved to Toronto on March 4, 2002. I moved to take a barely paid full-time job, and only-slightly-better-paid evenings and weekends job, as well as to go to school the nights I wasn't working. I had two friends in town, an apartment where you could see the fridge from the bed, a fear of the subway system (steel wheels--so noisy!) and two goldfish named Demetrius and Lysander.

The first thing I did when I moved was go to the Spadina Road library (shout out!) and get a UTPL card. I did this yes, partially because of my love of literature but mainly because I had neither an internet connection nor a phonebook, and I needed to find a locksmith to install the lock I had bought and installed in Montreal after the Terrible Millennial Break-In, then had de-installed at great expense when I moved.

I eventually got Jason from Spadina Security. I think locksmiths, like bartenders and nurses, often deal with people who are freaking out or about to do so, and they have to have the people skills to match their technical skills. Jason was extremely nice and comforting about my move to Toronto (he told me I had an excellent lock!) Spadina Security was the first Toronto address I added to my book after I moved, and probably the nicest conversation I had that day.

You'd think that I would have been using all my scant free time to sleep, but as I remember it now, with little in the way of friends and money to entertain me, it stretched out. I wasn't writing much in those days, and even then my tv was only sort of functional. My principal hobby was free-trial periods at gyms. It was a form of entertainment (expecially since I found that Toronto gyms often had tvs you could watch) as well as fitness, plus the trainers who showed you around were usually really friendly. Policies were looser in those days, and I got in at least a couple workouts at almost every gym in the downtown core and some beyond, including one in Rosedale that had an in-house kitten.

I walked everywhere, continuing to be both afraid of the TTC and cheap about the $2.50 fare (ah, those were the days!) "It's amazing what you can accomplish when you time is of no value," I told a work superior in the elevator one day, when he opined that me walking 30 blocks to a store I wanted to try was not an excellent plan. There was little he could say to that, I suppose.

I went to so many libraries to do my homework, so many flowershops just to sniff things, I knew the cost of every brand of everything in the supermarket. My brother (one of the two TO friends) snuck me into his film classes to watch movies about prison breaks. Someone told me not to walk through any parks alone at night and I was SO happy when I finally made a friend in one of my night classes so that together we could cut through Queen's Park on the way home. I was distraught (though he was more so) when he had to drop the class because misdirected arsonists had burnt down his house. I don't know what ever happened to him--I hope he's ok. But then I made another friend and walked home with her.

I finally got a real job, one that paid decently and was only 8 hours a day. It was a shocking amount of free time, and a shocking amount of money (if I told you, you would laugh in pity). I remember buying a pair of pretty ballet flats, utterly flimsy, made out of cardboard and vinyl, for $15, and being thrilled that, a) I could afford to waste money on something I didn't need, and b) that I no longer needed to stand for hours at a time (ah retail) so it didn't even matter that the shoes were cheap.

As it turns out, those cardboard shoes were wonderful and I had them for 6 years. And I learned to take the TTC to get to my new job, and then to take the TTC efficiently, and then to love the TTC with all my heart. I got an apartment with two rooms and spent days doing figure-eights between them. I made more Toronto friends! I started having people to borrow books from and bake cookies for and hug when I hadn't seen them in a while. That was, and has never stopped being, amazing.

With my friends and also alone (because I had in fact learned to enjoy my own company) I went everywhere and talked to everyone and petted everyone's dogs. Never forgets:

--that time Jaime, Lara and I went to the Santa Claus parade in a blizzard and got amazing spots in the crowd because of the snow. And the parade was so silly and happy and the kids didn't care about the weather at all. And these sad free-sample distributers gave us tonnes of free tubes of pudding because they just wanted to get rid of them and I wound up with dozens only to discover I don't like sucking pudding from a tube. And when I got home my hands were so numb I couldn't turn my key in the lock for a few minutes.
--that time Penny and I went to see Chad's band play and then Ron Hawkins jumped on the stage and played a song
--the night I was walking on Sunnyside Beach with Jay and then fireworks started
--the big 2004 blackout, when I was not inconvenienced one iota, but everyone was in such good moods, plus I got a day off work
--finally having my scary crazy operation at North York General and being absolutely convinced that I would die under anesthetic just like my parents' kitten...and then I didn't, and I spent that whole spring being thrilled just to get out of bed
--climbing 22 flights of stairs with Mark J. while carrying the Penguin anthology
--the well-dressed corpulent middle-aged man who approached me on the street late one night to say he'd just been to a fashion industry event, and did I want the samples of cosmetics that were in his goodie bag? (yes!)
--when Ben and I were on our way to sushi when we ran into a naked man...and then another...and then we realized it was Pride weekend.
--when Brandon and I were walking down the street during (a different) Pride and I said, "Hey, that women wasn't wearing a shirt." and Brandon hadn't noticed.
--the untoward flirtation Kerry and I discovered at Starbucks
--when Maya made me run around and around at Circle Thai because she was bored sitting at the table (she's three).
--the day Mark and I took the ferry to Ward's Island for Katie's birthday, but we went to the wrong island and had to walk all the way around and then we ran into everyone and had a big delicious picnic on the beach in the freezing cold
--the night I was reading at Strong Words and brought a bunch of friends to hear me, but the Art Bar was flooded so they gave us a different room at the Gladstone, but the room was locked, so my friends and I just stood on the stairs, with me saying, "I really do have a reading tonight, I swear." (eventually someone came and unlocked the room and it was an amazing night)
--the first time I saw Harriet (who is currently a baby) roll over
--when a man who thought he was flirting with told me that the problem with the publishing industry is "too many Jews"

And the crazy thing is that I've already forgotten so much, no doubt--a hundred idle kindnesses at the grocery store and on the bus, birthday cards, snowstorms, fashion faux pas, and free cheese. But that's, I suppose, what real life in a real place is--not having to keep perfect account of every amazing moment because, while they aren't constant, there will be more to come.

I know a lot of my most-loved Toronto memories are not Toronto-centric--they could have happened anywhere, but they didn't. Toronto is where I've lived the last 8 years, and where amazing and banal things have happened to me, and I'm so grateful. Here's to another 8!



Adrienne Gruber said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adrienne Gruber said...

You totally just described my Toronto experience...I have also been going from YMCA to YMCA getting free workouts and using the library close to my apartment and going to stores to smell things for free and try on things for free and do basically anything that involves not spending money!! Oh Toronto.....

Kerry said...

You should have been there tonight-- Harriet CRAWLED!

And Toronto is so lucky to have you (as we all are). xo

amy jones said...

Ditto Adrienne (well, minus the gym thing. My 10lb exercise ball and free online workout videos make my bedroom the best gym in town). Also, there is no shame in being able to see your fridge from your bed! I'm going to miss it here...

Katie Brown said...

Oh you make so homesick! I was reading this post, and began panicking, thinking you were writing an ode because you are moving . . . here's to another 8 indeed! I can't wait for the summer, there will be more Island picnics.

Rebecca Rosenblum said...

Adrienne, further cheap entertainment--free makeovers at the Bay (though you have to dress up a little to get offered them--only worth it if you enjoy makeovers); the video pods at the National Film Board at John and Richmond (used to be free, now I think a couple bucks, but imagine: all the NFB films you can watch!!); free passes to cultural attractions that you can borrow from TPL on Saturdays (

Katie, really?? Yes!!

Kerry, Right back at you! And tell Harriet congrats for me.

Amy, it's really less visual and more aural that I had a problem with--that was a loud fridge.