I arrived in Toronto in 1992 as a 22yo grad student, and left it as a 29yo assistant professor, husband, and father. I spent a lot of that time walking.
Just before I woke up on September 11 2006, I was having a dream about walking down Yonge street. I wrote down as much as I could while I still remembered. I came across these notes just now.
A Jesus-haired stoner lopes up to you and punches you in the arm — hard.
“What the hell did you do that for?” you hear yourself shout.
The guy looks a little worried. “Woah! You just got to loosen up, dude!”
You punch the stoner in his arm.
He stumbles back, but doesn’t break eye contact. “Do unto others, man!” he says, nodding and rubbing his arm, his peaceful face golden with joy.
He moves off into the crowd, his hair flying, his knuckles spreading sharp gleaming stoner love.
Apparently celebrating the recent legal decision that supported topfree sunbathing in Canada, a girl wearing knee socks, a plaid skirt and nothing above her waist pretends to carry on a conversation with a boy on his bicycle outside the Eaton Centre HMV.
A man in a business suit has seen the girl, and is now fumbling with a camera. The girl pretends to be annoyed, while nevertheless holding a fashion model pose.
The man looks at the girl, then checks to see how many shots he has left on his camera.
He looks again at the girl, then back at the camera. He stuffs the camera back into his pocket without taking a shot, and walks away.
Just then, your very pregnant wife touches your arm. “I’m off to my gynecology appointment,” she says.
A man wearing a blonde wig and a little black party dress approaches, wobbling on spiked heels. A four-year-old boy tugs on his mother’s skirt and points, his face contorted in confusion.
The man in the party dress makes eye contact with the mother, then smiles gently at the boy. “It’s just my costume, son,” he says. “Like Halloween.”
The boy watches over his shoulder as the man totters off.
A freckled strawberry-blonde girl pushes a huge baby carriage across a busy street. She can’t be more than eight, and her eyes are screwed up like she’s about to cry.
The girl takes one hand off the handlebar in order to rub her eyes. In so doing, she slows down just a tiny bit, causing a pedestrian traffic jam. In the scrum, you find yourself bending down to her face.
“Are you okay? You look worried,” you say.
People wearing hard hats and people carrying briefcases stop to listen. The baby in the carriage is sleeping.
“No, it’s just the exhaust,” says the little girl, gesturing towards a passing truck.
She gives the carriage a shove to get it started again, and the knot of pedestrians disperses.
A group of teens gathers in front of an empty storefront. One sets up a clean white posterboard, takes a Sharpie from a freshly-bought package, and very neatly prints the word “Homeless.”
One boy with a puppy seems to be getting the most attention from passers-by.
A woman carrying a briefcase stops in front of the panhandling teens.
“Those are nice designer sweaters and brand-name athletic shoes you’re wearing,” she says. “Go home to your parents!”
Only one of the panhandlers even bothers to give her the finger.
An old woman smiles toothlessly at you. “You’re a handsome young man. I’d like to tell you your fortune!”
But the crowd closes in before you can reply.
On the street, you spot a woman who’s a fellow student in your literature seminar. She’s giving a presentation on modern poetry next week, and you’ve been assigned to critique it.
“Hello,” you say. “Do you want to sit down somewhere and talk about Auden?”
The woman stares at you like she’s never seen you before, and you realize that she’s right.
“Whoops, I thought you were someone else,” you say. “It looks like I accidentally hit on you, doesn’t it?”
The woman laughs. “I love Auden,” she says. “I was going to say ‘Yes!'”
You can see that she’s trying to get a look at your left hand, so you hold it up to show her your ring.
“From the conservative dark / Into the ethical life / The dense commuters come, / Repeating their morning vow; / ‘I will be true to the wife, / I’ll concentrate more on my work,” you recite.
Or, you want to recite.
Or, years later, you will dream that you wanted to recite.
4 thoughts on “Memories of Toronto Yonge Street Encounters”
Today I remember this dream more than I remember any of the incidents that inspired the dream, but at the time I wrote this blog post, I remember thinking of the dream as very accurate.
In reality I did not punch the stoner and was not tempted to.
I don’t remember any photographer, and my dreaming mind embellished the truth by making my wife very pregnant and walking away from me. (She was with me at the time, but this was a couple of years before she was carrying our first child.)
I remember distinctly the face of an older Black woman who was not part of the traffic jam of four or five people the little girl created when she slowed down; but this woman stopped instantly, with mother bear energy, when she saw a a strange man (me) stop to address the child. I made eye contact with the woman, and it was she who gave the signal all was well and we could could all go on about our business. That detail didn’t make it into my dream, but I remember it well enough that I want to include it here.
I did not in reality have the perfect Auden quote cued up in my memory not in Toronto in the 1990s, but I knew when I had this dream in 2006 that I had found a passage that would have worked perfectly if this had been a romcom meet-cute, but I didn’t have it memorized. I had to look it up again when I wrote out this blog post in 2014.
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