Sunday, September 24, 2006

FWG’s potentially-more-excellent all-week adventure - Sunday

I get away grey-and-early, eager to hit the writing festival. The traffic is blessedly light on the Gardner today except for a ghastly line-up in the right hand lane with Spadina – the next exit – still a long way off. But the line-up persists all the way to the exit. It must be some kind of hell on Spadina this morning but apparently it’s the place to be. Bizarre.

The picture becomes clearer though, as I’m made to pass by my Yonge/Bay/York exit and than – to mounting horror – the Jarvis exit because both are closed. Barricaded. So I wind up on the Don Valley Parkway and exit at Bloor/Danforth which actually works out very well. Much better than had I squandered away in the Spadina queue.

A big green P and a diagonal arrow indicate underground parking at The Colonnade on my left. Very convenient. Just a short walk from there to Bloor-and-University, gateway to Queen’s Park and the festival.

Some of Toronto’s most accomplished psychopaths are on Bloor Street this morning – competing in the Toronto Taxicab Death Race 2006 apparently. And chubby Streetsvillians in yellow pickups are worth ninety zillion points and pole position in the season championship race. I am a marked man. It’s only through divine intervention that I reach the parking garage alive. Thank you Jesus, Buddha, Ganesh or whoever’s in charge up there. Zeus? Santa Clause? George Burns? Whoever. Thank you. The tight spiral ramp leading to the gate is daunting but I navigate successfully thanks again to the man upstairs. Ra? Odin? At the booth there are two gentlemen enclosed.

“Seven dollars,” says one.

“Do you take anything other than cash?”

“Frayed knot.”

“Uh oh.” I manage to extricate my wallet from my left front pocket without standing up. Devine miracle number three. Sure enough – no cash. “You got a cash machine nearby?”

He screws his face up as if thinking about this. As if in all his days of parking lot attending I’m the very first customer to ask this question. I fondle the right side of my jeans now. Hmm. Is that a pocketful of loonage in there or am I just glad to see you?

“Hang on. Maybe I have enough change.” I open the door. I most definitely must stand now. All the gods in Valhalla couldn’t pull off this maneuver. I push the door open to that median groove which happens to fall just shy of the wall of the booth. Perfect. I step out, stand, reach in pocket. Booth lad #1 insists on being helpful. He takes hold of the car door and pulls, banging it against the wall. “Um – thanks. But you can let go of the door please.” Clearly this fellow has never owned a vehicle before and naturally assumes they’re made of rubber. I pull all the coins from my pocket. Two tooneys, two looneys, Three quarters. Hmm. “Six seventy five. Can you cut me a deal?”

Number two man drops his jaw. “You’re the third guy this morning with exactly six seventy five! What’s going on!”

“No way!”

Number one winks at me. Okay. So it’s a joke. Well done. Kudos. Number one hands me a dashboard ticket. I give him the change.

“Think of me,” he says. I presume any deficits come out of his earnings.

“I’ll square up with you on my way out. I promise.” I park the beast of burden, grab my cloth shopping bag, camera and throw on my ridiculous green fishing hat – because it’s 60% POP today says the CBC weather web site. POP stands for Chance Of Rain, by the way. I presume COR was trademark protected or something so they went with POP instead. Makes sense.

I withdraw some cash at a machine and hit the very busy Second Cup, needing their bathroom. It is locked so I shift from foot to foot, holding back the urge while I wait for the current occupant to leave. Several customers give me tired glances until I absorb the message that I’m doing something wrong.

Is my pee-dance not subtle enough and not welcome here? No. I somehow sense I’m in some procedural violation. It comes to me. The door is not locked from the inside but from out. I need to apply for access and be given a key if approved. I hang my head and move to the end of a long line at the counter.

The line moves fast though and I’m confronted by a very serious coffee lady demanding my order.

“Um. What’s your strongest coffee?”

“What size?” she barks.

“Um. Large?” I was hoping for an answer but she’s off pouring my large coffee, the variety not divulged. She returns with it. “And a cinnamon bun please!” Her eyes linger on me an extra instant as she moves to the glass shelves. She plunks one, cold, into a bag. I gather its too late to ask for it to be heated up. “And I need to use your bathroom please,” I say as she pushes the bag into my hands. She brandishes a club – half a hockey stick actually and I brace myself for the beating I’m about to receive. But no. There’s a key dangling from it. I take it, pay the bill and go use the facility.

So - what? Is Seinfeld to blame for every big city merchant that has turned into a soup Nazi or is this just the natural evolution of the A-Hole Generation?

One of the merchants in the complex in which I live applied to do business under the name Pita Nazi. He was rejected, thank god, but later approved as Pita Nutsy. The shop bears a large sign in the window proclaiming NO PITA FOR YOU! and his employees each wear T-shirts bearing the same slogan. I for one have done my part in cooperating. I don’t ask for one.

Speaking of the CBC, it is their venue that I come to first at the festival. A very substantial stage is erected supporting more chairs and microphones than you can shake half a hockey stick at.

I read the line-up. A “Mini Metro Morning” show begins at 11AM featuring Andy Barrie, Eleanor Wachtel, traffic man Jim Curran and sportscaster Scott Regher. Excellent. The quest to meet Mr. Barrie – one of my all-time heroes – begins.

I linger. I see that CBC radio man Kevin Sylvester has a booth adjacent the CBC tent. I’m reminded I need a word with him. I know he’s a cartoonist by hobby and presume he’s hawking books of that nature. A crowd of curious window shoppers mill about. I skirt their perimeter and sidle up to his table. He glances at me.

“Hello Mr. Sylvester.”

“Hi there.”

“I just wanted to ask you about something. Do you remember what you said on the air on March 17th of this year – during the home-drive? A comment you made? Let me refresh your memory. You said that nobody really drinks green beer.”

“Did I say that?”

“I was deeply deeply offended.” He chuckles at this as does the woman next to him. His wife I presume.

“Maybe I said that real Irishmen don’t drink green beer.”

“No-no. You said nobody. But it’s okay. I’ve let it go. I’ve worked through the anger and resentment. You’re off the hook.”

“Oh – well thanks! Does that mean you’ll consider buying my book?”

“No. Out of the question.”

Andy and friends are now on stage, the show beginning. Some guy named Mike - a CBC television personality - wanders the crowd with a microphone to facilitate questions from the audience. ‘Mike with a mike’ is their joke. Har har. Questions prove hard to come by. He gets a couple. He comes to a standstill just in front of me and Mr. Barrie finally interprets his immobility as having found a questioner and invites him to proceed. Mike shrugs and turns, waving the mike as if to say ‘any takers?’ I raise my hand. He steps up to me.

I’m trying to think fast. I want to talk to Andy but the only subject occurring to me is the situation around the various newscasters who repeat their segments for different regions of the country - but offering separate local perspectives for each - which fools many listeners into believing them local personalities. But this phenomenon does not apply to Mr. Barrie as far as I know.

“What’s your name?” Mike asks before tipping the mike from his chin to mine.

I tell him - my voice amplified all over hell’s half-acre. “And my question is for Mr. Regher - although - I wish my question was for Andy Barrie ‘cause I think he’s the most intelligent man on the airwaves anywhere -” This brings an instant reaction. Laughter and applause from the crowd; a suddenly animated Barrie who makes like he will jump from his seat to pursue this line of conversation; and groans and head-shaking from the other three panelists. “- And a consummate gentleman to boot!” I conclude. Barrie is cut off by Eleanor Wachtel.

“Oh don’t tell him that!” she cries. “We’ll never be able to put up with him!”

“My question to you is - what are your favorite sports teams - personally? And please don’t name all the Toronto teams or I’ll know you’re playing politics!” More laughter.

Scott shakes his head - perhaps disconcerted at being put on the spot or - more likely - just playing up to that idea. He confesses preference for the Vancouver Canucks and the BC Lions and throws out a full dissertation on the upcoming professional soccer league and his solid dedication to the Toronto entry in that circuit - which is very noble considering they only exist in theory thus far. “So that’s my quasi-political answer,” he concludes.

I’ve been smiling and nodding - glad to have dragged this westerner out of the closet but regretting not finding a question for Andy. I should have asked him if he would adopt me. He’s 60. I’m 37. The math is there.

After the show Andy leaves the stage and is surrounded promptly. He’s popular. Out of consideration I decline to line-up. The poor man will want to get away and explore the festival. I know he’s a big reader. Perhaps I’ll run into him later on Literacy Lane.

Alas I do not run into him. I do however, stumble upon another celebrity of significance - one, in fact - who was featured on this very blog recently. Any guesses? Anyone? I’ll give you a hint. He’s purple and rotund.

That’s right! Grimace himself! What a shameless name-dropper I am, eh? He was hanging out in the shade of a treed area shamelessly hugging small children. We had words. Not many. I vowed my support and my bitterness toward Ronald and asked if he still saw much of the old gang. But the Grimster was not in a talkative mood. Rather silent, actually. I suggested he was under-employed and encouraged him to play to his strengths - that he should pursue promotional avenues with Ontario grape growers and wineries. His love of the vine is legendary, after all. I’m sure I need not point out that it’s the tannins that makes his fur purple.

His boy friend, clad in red-and-yellow jumper and a baseball cap emblazoned with the golden arches emblem was cheerful, outgoing but he laughed too much, taking my concern for Grimmy as some sort of joke. Rather shallow of him, I thought. Grimace deserves better.

And just in case you’re skeptical - that I really met Grimace in person - here is the photo we had taken. Grimace will be posting a copy on his own blog site - to attest his claim having met the world’s biggest leprechaun.

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