Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A typical evening out, these days...

"With the other masquerades
That time resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms
."

-T.S.Eliot

I have an evening off in every sense of the term. My wife is teaching a dance class and my son has been absconded-with by his grandparents to parts unknown (fine - southern Ontario) and I'm on vacation for a week for reasons of sanity and getting-stuff-done-around-the-(still)-new-house. In four days away from the office I have replaced an eavestrough, fixed a hole in my roof with a handsaw and literally $8.00 worth of stuff from Home Depot rather than renting a Sawzall, cleaned my kitchen and garage eavestrough, and hung a clothesline. Einstein allegedly said that his compatriots at Princeton were the most brilliant minds in the world and between them they could not hang a clothesline, so it's been both a sore point and a great source of pride for me to have gotten it done. But that's another story.

It's Wednesday night and James is having problems. He's a teacher who has been assigned a half-contract next year rather than a full contract, and while filling the time with his wife and son will not be a problem the requisite half-paycheque is never fun. He is in need of tea (or beer) and sympathy and I am not without stresses of my own and it's a Wednesday night sans wife or child and anything else to do. I get on the subway with a particular kind of migraine (the type that comes before the rain and makes me intensely noise-sensitive) to visit the venerable Paupers pub to meet James. Instead, I meet the most interesting people on the subway.



Person One
: Female, mousey blonde, around 40yrs old in a button-up white shirt, orange canvas jacket (circa 1986 or so, I'm sure Molly Ringwald wore it in at least one of her movies), and a white long skirt popularized in a Wham! video back in the day (several day's worth of days ago) and red hi-tops. She was hunched over reading an 'official' publication, but truth be told I can't tell if it was an 'official' religious tract or sales sheet or self-help manual. But you'd understand what it was if you'd seen it: official-sized lettering, branded font and a few smiling people on the cover with great purpose. Somebody had given her this publication and the words within it were clearly gospel (if not gospel).

She was reading it at an unnaturally high angle for the rest of her hunched-over status when somebody dared to sit on her bench. There was a full seat between them, a degree of distance even suitable for the most unfriendly of Torontonians. But it was apparently a transgression. "You don't have to sit there," she said helpfully. "There's an empty seat over there. You don't have to sit here and I can push the emergency bar if I need to."

Two things struck me. Three, really. Firstly, the guy sitting one seat away looked either amused or confused, and neither situation was going to assuage her. Secondly, there was an element of deja-vu to all this: I'd tried to sit on a two-seater on a busy rush hour morning a few years ago beside a woman who loudly announced "You don't have to sit here" in more or less the same tone of voice but minus the potential manic-depressive overtones. I think she just had space issues and I simply chalked it up to experience.

Thirdly, the confused/amused look in the guy's face on this particular Wednesday night let us all know that it wasn't going to end at her low-level hissy fit. He was looking to engage. He said "This is public property," which wasn't fated to end well. She countered with "This is not public property it's the TTC and they could throw you off and I could hit the emergency bar if I needed to," and they both looked like they were getting ready for a long evening of this delightful confab when I got off the train. To hell with it. I didn't need this cheap theatre. I have hobbies. And I had somewhere to go.


Person Two: The next train didn't offer much by way of improvement. Two stations away, a gentleman with an accent sat next to me (after asking if I minded that he spoke to me) and enquired if I would be willing to donate anything, any amount that I had, to save the children in the middle east.

A point of order- his accent wasn't at all middle eastern. In fact, it was far closer to the Creole accent of a Doctor I once knew, something sort of French. I made the mistake of saying "Which country?" and he said "All. All over the middle east. The Jews. Do you know Jews?" he said.

This sort of thing happens to me every 15 years or so. Perhaps I was due. I muttered something along the lines of 'not interested' and he continued to spout a conspiracy theory or two that didn't actually connect with any particular country, movement or culture in the middle east. For all I knew, he could have been a dude from the French west Indies who'd been sent out by a disorganized agency with bad information. It took a very long 20 seconds or so for him to realize that I wasn't interested in a debate or donation so he left the train, muttering to himself in some language that clearly wasn't French.

I got to Paupers. I met James. I waved at somebody at the Hot Docs festival across the street who I thought was Carla, who might not have been Carla, who may or may not have been attending Hot Docs in the first place (and if it was you Carla, let the record state I did wave). Numerous wings and pints of beer and shots of vodka later, I came home to the denouement of the evening, otherwise known as...

Person Three: Who spoke to me at Donlands station. She was well-dressed, wearing high heels and had a distinctly eastern-European accent. If it was fake, I would not have known. She said "May I sit beside you?" which seemed a bit odd since the train was empty and I was in a 2 seater bench. She sat down before I could say no and gave me a welcoming smile which seemed destined to lead into an evening of charming conversation. She was dressed conservatively with a lot of make up, big earrings and very elaborate shoes.

All of which I had no interest in. "I'm getting off in just a minute," I told her, hoping she'd go away.

She pouted theatrically. "This means that you don't want to talk to me, I guess."

That was, indeed, pretty much the point. If the pout was meant to be either cute or alluring, it failed on both counts. I'm sure that in the right light, with the right amount of liquor (and if I had the money which I'm sure she was looking for) all the elements would have created a mutually beneficial arrangement. I wanted nothing to do with any of it, and stood up to wait at the train's door for my station. When I looked back (the one time), she was still pouting and smiling with the faux-disappointment of somebody who's sure that you're going to give into whatever she wanted. Not only was I the wrong audience, it was decidedly the wrong venue.

She muttered something else about being left alone by the time I left the train, perhaps comforted by the knowledge that there were a few other people on board to be entertained or propositioned or perhaps to take part in a business transaction.

Me, I have a house with a lock on the door and relative silence and nobody looking for money or an audience or both. I went home and wrote this in the quiet of a late night with nowhere to go in the morning.

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