Hell in the Haze

I suffer at sight of bare legs

Rating: NNNNN

I opened the door today and at my feet flopped a parks department brochure entitled Toronto Fun Fall/Winter 2002/03. Marvellous enough is the idea of Fun erupting in Toronto, but the “vision” described in this 160-page eye-opener is utterly fantastic. “Toronto will be known by the world as the “City within a Park,’ a rich fabric of parks, open space, rivers and streams that connect our neighbourhoods and join us with our clean vibrant lakefront.”When is this again? Oh, right, fall/winter, when cold winds will reduce smog days and render E. coli alerts at beaches irrelevant.

I love the idea of the whole place being connected by rivers and streams, implying that crosstown canoeing is imminent. Honest Ed once made the city a serious offer to turn Markham Street into a canal. “All great cities have canals.” But his vision was rejected.

“The world will envy and seek to emulate the healthy, productive and balanced lives that the people of Toronto have achieved,” the pamphlet continues. Maudit! Where have I been subsisting?

Eager to enrol in this glimmering future, I scan the list of potential Fun — crocheting, china painting, tai chi, $24 for nine weeks. Then I see the age restriction on all the courses that attract me: 60 years and over. Tabarnac! Never mind my birth certificate. Isn’t every year tolerated in Toronto worth at least two anywhere else? Now, I can say that. Je suis une Torontoise. It’s another thing altogether when Mary Walsh of Newfoundland goes on government television slagging this city where she’s only too happy to attend an awards gala or mouth a Vagina Monologue.

But my dears, down here on the street, it’s been some excruciating. A pavement-pounding buddy of mine (he calls me buddy, too his hopeful mum moved them all up from the Rock many years ago) tells me this is the first summer he’s had to forgo wearing a jacket. “It’s like I’m naked without a jacket!”

Like me, his daytime dress consists of long sleeves, pants, hat and proper shoes, no matter how gruelling and sticky it gets. We, neither of us, believe in shorts and suffer at the sight of bare legs. That Toronto musicians — the envy of the planet — dare step onstage in such a state of undress is a grim marker of just how low standards have fallen.

Oh, I’m not even going to mention the ghastly parade of beer bellies and bare greasy chests. And that’s just the women! As for men, if they can’t dress themselves, they should just stay home. Unsightly sons-of-slobs clutter up sidewalks striking yo-American- gangsta poses. I can only laugh at anyone wearing nylon underpants on his head and droopy diapers for drawers.

I admit I went half-mad with the heat. I did crazy, atypical things. I went to a public pool (only because private pools are such a bore, of course). It just became too much days, weeks swaddled in sweat. Finally, I rushed up to the outdoor cement pond at Bathurst and Dundas and joined dozens of other adults standing in water that was nominally cooler than the surrounding miasma. A few zealots insisted on plowing through their lengths, but most of us were saving our energy for later. The best part was the illusion of refreshment while cycling home with a big wet bathing suit underneath my frock.

And, oh yes, I did get “out of town” by about four or five hours. But the noise! Give me the city any day. The country is full of ATVs, hunters, sea-doos and motorboats. In the city, I can go all year without riding in a car — unwelcome trips over the hood don’t count — but in the country car is king.

A bittersweetly pleasant experience happened while I was locking up my bike by the Bovine. I met Tadrei from Climax, Michigan. “What is it with all these bikes? You got to lock ’em up like that?” From his slight accent I gathered he was from south of the border and was, therefore, not familiar with bikes at all. I was gentle with this gentleman addressing a strangely dressed woman on the street. It was my Seminole Indian skirt that drew him. Bikes were just an excuse.

But by the end of the evening I had this travelling employee of General Motors convinced that all the best people ride bikes and that he must, for the first time in his life, take a trip on a train.

Oh, but it ain’t easy being the Life of the Party for 60-plus years with nobody else to play along. I do have my loyal compañera, Reina Luminosa. We met at the market in Mexico City. To tell the truth, I bought her. You don’t hear that honestly admitted by those Canadians, mostly men, who meet the (cute, young) love of their life on a beach in Cuba and bedazzle her him/her with cash.

Reina has shared my trials and trails for I can’t remember how many years. Life in Canada has not been a huge thrill for her. She does what I do — lies in bed a lot. On the worst hot days I move her down to the couch. How I curse myself for ignoring the fact that heat is not the only threat in the attic.

After a one-off night of fighting, carousing and Bible-reading with Big Arthur, who also confused some jazz players into following him on Stairway To Heaven, I floated upstairs, switched on the lamp and found Reina face down and pantless on my bed. I turned her over and screamed. And shrieked and cried.

Racoons tore up Reina Luminosa’s face! Racoons squeezed in the open window, jumped on my bed and ravaged Reina while I carried on downstairs. They ripped out her only earring. They scalped her temples. Reina’s face was of fine fabric. She’s handmade. She’s a queen. Her forehead, nose, cheeks and chin, thumb and toes are shredded and scarred. Why? Why? How did they know that targeting her is the only way to hurt me? Who do they work for?

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