Thanks. That’s all I’m saying here.
A year of great television and also a year of some bitterness and recrimination. People say I’m paid to watch TV but that’s not quite right – I’m paid to write. Looking back, I remember hard work and, sometimes, fatigue with the Canadian TV industry. A big industry, coddled, generating a lot of money for certain players in it. And with more than its fair share of narcissists and mediocrities. There are fine people in it, too, but they sometimes have to swim against a tide of arrogance and pretension.
The TV industry tends to think this column is written for them. It isn’t. And now I’ll tell you a story.
A winter’s evening, a Thursday. A harsh wind blows along Queen Street West, in Toronto, the sort of searing cold that mustered strength somewhere in the east end and blows hard, gathering energy around downtown, gleefully dipping and driving harder through Trinity Bellwoods Park. My neighbourhood.
Over at the Trinity Community Recreation Centre people are playing table tennis with gusto. Whoops of laughter echoing around the tables. In the swimming pool, a burly man is swimming back and forth, a tiny little boy on his shoulders. The boy is lost in his glee. The man is giggling. The boy’s mother, in the bleachers, claps her hands and roars with delight. It’s almost closing time and the staff are trying to shut down. The swimmers leave the pool, the table tennis players put on their coats and set off through the park.
If you were sitting in the window seat at La Hacienda bar, at this time, you’d see a telling scene unfold. A young woman in a short skirt and heels comes out of Lisa Marie, next door. It’s crowded there and yet nobody from the ’hood ever goes into it. Customers arrive in taxis. We all wonder where they’re from.
The young woman waves at a taxi driving by on the opposite side of the street. It’s a limp-wristed wave but the driver sees her, and slows. Immediately behind the taxi there’s a streetcar. It stops. All traffic stops while the young woman totters carefully and slowly across the street to get into the taxi. And after she does, the taxi moves away, the streetcar moves again. A very Canadian scene this, the politeness, the patience.
Me, I’m out, restless, wandering. Trying to write. A long piece about women’s soccer is waiting to be finished. And a column to be done. A day when I hit the wall. I need words, I need the rhythm of talk, I need the rhythm of the city. I stop into the Done Right Inn. Official online classification: dive bar. Not a haunt of mine. Don’t know anybody here. It’s crowded. Find a seat at the back, get a pint. Next to me, the table tennis players from across the way at the recreation centre are at a table, well into the beers, joking, gossiping. It’s like a small town this ’hood. You can see and feel the cadence of life, the pleasant regularity of it.
A tall man hovers. “Hey,” he says. “Can I just say that I love your column. Gotta read it every day.” I’m lost in thought, startled. “Sure you can say that, and thanks. We need every reader we can get.” He offers to buy me a drink. I demur. He moves away. A few minutes he’s back. Leans over me and says with more insistence, “Look, please let me buy you a drink. You have brought such pleasure into my life, for years. I want to thank you.”
I don’t know what to say. I’m aware that, blocks away, Kevin Quain, one of our greatest songwriters, is finishing up his gig at the Rex Hotel. He’s going around with a jar, asking people to put in a few dollars for him, the performer. A hard way to make a living. Harder than mine.
Thanks for the feedback, the compliments and reactions and arguments. Be good to each other. Put some money in the jar for the performers and all others who need it. Be generous. I’m away to Ireland. Next week, my old dad is 90 years old. See you in early January.