I'm driving north on Bathurst -- big mistake. It's the Friday shopping day before Passover, and it's bumper to bumper from Glencairn through Wilson. I'm drawn to my old midtown neighbourhood after a demanding stint with my parents in Florida. I think I'm looking for memories of the time when teenage hormones and the facts of life about sex were what mattered and not the brutal facts about parents aging.
A week taking care of the people who used to take care of me has sent my world out of whack.
My mother and father have returned to discover that one of the first victims of SARS was a resident in their condo. He had gone to Scarborough Grace after suffering a heart attack. His wife, too, died of SARS days after.
Later, walking along Eglinton, I'm considering our current planetary upheaval -- an otherwordly and destructive ice storm followed by 27° heat, the devastation caused by a stupid war and its smart bombs, and now a new, scary disease.
And then I see the sign in the window: Plague Bags, it says.
I stop, clueless, to look more closely. It does say Plague Bags, and so I head into Loots, the candy store.
"What's a Plague Bag?"
"Oh," says the proprietor, "I'll show you." He goes to the display and pulls out a clear plastic bag filled with small kids' toys. Each one, he says, represents one of the 10 plagues, whose recitation is a key part of the Passover story of Jewish liberation.
He's about to go into the longer explanation -- he's not sure I'm Jewish -- but I give him a few clues that I know the story of the plagues inflicted on Egypt to convince Pharaoh to release the Jews from slavery, and and he moves on to show me the goods.
The Sticky Hand is blight, he says. I'm peering at the bag.
"What about the rotten teeth?" I wonder.
"Pestilence," he replies. "This water ball is one of the most popular toys around right now. It's for... " He flips the bag over to look at the official guide, finds his spot and looks up. "Boils."
Whatever happened to the tried and true methods of fending off boredom at the Seder? I remember surreptitiously stealing all the carrot circles off the gefilte fish and eating them one by one. That was a real time filler.
We're told that as we drop beads of wine on our plates, one drop per plague, we're not supposed to feel even a bit of vengefulness. The plagues were traumatic for the Egyptians, and they suffered deeply. And now we've turned the 10 miseries into fodder for fun.
As the U.S. rains its plagues on Iraq, that part of the world that gave birth to the Jewish people, I'm shaken by the idea that children here are expected to grasp the terror of 24-hour darkness, another of God's punishments on the Egyptians, by putting on cardboard 3-D dinosaur email@example.com