Monday, October 30, 2006


I did go to a party the other night, to celebrate the birthday of one of the waitresses at the Café. The party was held at another neighbourhood bar, and was teeming with people I haven’t seen in a while.

When I arrived, I took a seat at the bar and ordered a cocktail, which is not what I usually drink. I usually drink beer, but I wasn’t planning on staying long. I don't linger much these days. Moments later, I was approached by one of the Café’s bartenders, who smiled broadly and kissed both my cheeks.

“Vila, we don’t see you anymore…” he lamented in charmingly accented English, as he let his hand rest gently on the small of my back. I sighed and lifted an invisible cigarette into the air, confessing, “I don’t go out like I used to.” I refrained from confessing that I found him unspeakably attractive.

His hand remained where it was, but his smile faded. “It’s really hit us hard, the smoking ban. It’s hit everybody hard.” I nodded and touched his arm sympathetically. Yes, sympathetically. Then, I thought of all the times I walked past the Café this summer and saw that it was empty, even on Friday and Saturday nights. It occurred to me that I missed him.

Of course I do. I miss everyone at the Café.

Before I left the party, I had the presence of mind to ask the bartender what nights he works, and promised to come see him soon. When I do, I will sit at the bar and order a cocktail. If he flirts with me, I’ll go outside for a smoke, and then order a second. But only if he flirts with me.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Musical interlude

I was supposed to go to a Hallowe’en party tonight. Two, actually. I had every intention of going, despite the rain, and had even assembled my outfit for the evening.

Instead, I got lost in a documentary about Glenn Gould.

It wasn’t an especially good film, but I’m a sucker for interviews with people I find interesting. Better yet, it featured Gould’s rendition of one of my favourite pieces of music: Bach’s Art of the Fugue, the composer’s last work.

It must have been the combination of hearing the piece, listening to Gould rhapsodize about music, and seeing the beautifully faded shots of Toronto in the 1970s that inspired my nostalgia. In any case, I was seized with the desire to play, which has been absent for quite some time.

Long enough, in fact, that I haven’t played a note of music since I moved into my current apartment. Truth be told, I haven’t played any classical music since I moved into my first apartment.

After the film ended, I opened my hall closet and found the keyboard I used for live shows, stashed in the farthest corner underneath the third floor stairs. A few minutes later, I had it set up on the coffee table with the operating system and my best piano sample loaded.

I let my fingers rest on the keys without depressing them and paused. Instantly, there was fear. What if it was gone? What if I had lost the ability to play?

To reassure myself, I started with a few scales. Okay, I still know my scales. Then, some chords. I remember the inversions, good. Then, noodling, I tried to recall an actual piece of music.

For the life of me, I couldn’t think of any.

Worried, I noodled my way to G minor, which felt nice. I’ve always liked G minor. Then, the interval that brought it back: a perfect fourth. With just those two notes, D to G, my hands remembered a short piece by Tchaikovsky, which I played in its entirety.

I’m sure it had been twenty years since I last played it.

Mind, I didn’t play the piece especially well. The phrasing was off, and the sixteenth notes were timid at best. But my physical memory of the piece was intact, which astonished me. It was all in the hands, this memory, and, I suppose, in the ear. If I thought consciously about what I was playing, I fucked it up.

There’s a lesson in that.

Emboldened, I found some books of sheet music and opened one of them to a random page. This was harder than playing from memory, but slowly, I found the notes, and through them, the general contours of the piece. Yes, with a little practice, I could read music again. I was elated.

Before I knew it, two full hours had passed. I decided to skip the parties.

I’m reasonably certain that I won’t take up classical music again. To be good, truly good, you have to be obsessively, even fanatically committed to it, as Gould was. In this sense, it’s not unlike ballet, or gymnastics, or chess: it’s a singular commitment, which is why I stopped doing it.

Still, I like that my hands remember.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Cleaning up

The hurricanes have ended. I emerge, cautiously, and inspect my apartment for damage.

There is a thick layer of dust on all surfaces. Underneath that, an even thicker layer of cat hair. Underneath that, mountainous drifts of paper, frosted with gray cigarette ash.

I haven’t the faintest idea where I put the hydro bill, which is almost certainly past due, or my health card. It may take an archaeological dig to find them. Also, I wonder when the kitchen faucet started leaking?

Yes, there are repairs to be done, but the basic structure is sound.

I’ll start with a garbage bag and a dustpan, then set to writing the dissertation I’m meant to write. The one that, in some sense, I’ve been writing all along. The one about the quiet city.

I can do this. I will do this.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Parc petition

An online petition is cicrculating to reverse the city's decision to rename Avenue du Parc, which was made with no public consultation. Of course you should sign it, if only to encourage municipal politicians to do more worthwhile things with their time.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The stench of romance

Patti Smith said of the closing of CBGB:

It’s a symptom of the empty new prosperity of our city.

Of course she’s right, and at the same time she’s not.

One could argue that CBGB has been a museum piece for at least twenty years. That Hilly Kristal plans to move the club, toilets and all, to Las Vegas only bolsters the argument.

Still, Smith perfectly captures the meaning we want the event to have. We want it to be a funeral for a city we loved, or, better, for an idea of a city we loved.

Admittedly, it’s hard to love this new city, the prosperous city, which is, really, all cities. You can’t quite shake the feeling that they’re out of your league.

Fifty bucks says they’ll turn the place into condos.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


For the first time in years, I’ve been having nightmares. Last night, I dreamt about my brother, who lay bloated and dying in a hospital bed. I stood at a distance, watching him suffer, and was consoled by another version of the same brother, who was well. This brother told me it was diabetes, which had progressed too far. All the while, a machine dispensed pain medication in steady, beeping doses.

I had a similar dream in Vancouver, in which I was present at my brother’s funeral. Again, I was at a distance, this time because I was the funeral director. I wanted desperately to approach the casket, to see him and to say goodbye, but I couldn’t leave my post at the back of the room. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my mother, who once worked as a cleaning lady, sweeping the floors. My father was absent.

It hasn’t been an easy autumn. I can feel myself churning, but not like I usually do. This ferment goes right to the core, to those rancid depths that are such an awful cliché. Still, the questions circle like gulls: What’s good? What’s necessary? What is possible? Then, inevitably, the worst of them: How fucked up am I?

Needing someone, I called my father tonight. We talked about the weather and the price of cigarettes, then he felt compelled to tell me that he didn’t think I would ever finish my PhD. Instantly, I hated him, for this and for every wound before it. For the Christmas presents he refused to open, year after year, as my brother and I waited expectantly. For the report cards he ignored, drawling, “So what? You always get As.” For not taking my brother to the hospital when he asked to be taken there, and for abandoning him when he was too sick to go. For not leaving my mother until it was far too late.

I realize that I’m tired of forgiving him for everything he could have done differently, but chose not to. He didn’t have to say it out loud.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Last things

I noticed today that there are different qualities of sunlight.

Some have the feel of beginnings; they blush the skin with the promise of summer, warming the body through to the bones. Others presage winter and endings, affirming that which is already gone.

The warmth of this day was as fleeting and sad as a last kiss.

Knowing this, I rode my bike to the park with the waterfall, where I watched a hive of children celebrating the third day of Sukkot. They played fiercely, losing caps and shoes as they raced across a bright carpet of leaves. Ignoring them, their mothers talked easily amongst themselves.

I stayed at the park until sunset, then, cold, biked quickly home.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Today, my cab driver let me smoke in his cab. “Just don’t let anybody see you,” he said. “It’s a $300 dollar fine.” I cupped my cigarette in my hand and nodded gravely.

Meanwhile, in France, the unthinkable. Says Jean-Pierre Balligand of his country’s proposed smoking ban:

“I’ll end my life where I started it — in the men’s room.”


Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Hoarse. Warm. Ache. The body rebels. It always does.

Last week, during a particularly stressful meeting, I excused myself to go the bathroom. The door locked, I steadied myself against the sink for a few minutes, looking away from the mirror. Then, I lifted up the toilet seat, sank to my knees, and vomited.

I have a notoriously strong stomach, so I know what this means. It means that I have reached my limit.

Tonight, I draw a bath and promise myself that I won’t get out until my skin prunes.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


Tonight, I told my dad that I had a lousy week. His response:

I know all about life that turn sour, work 45 years and look what it got me, alone in one bedroom apartment, and life being short, wonder sometimes where all the years have gone by...

Money are there just to keep me alive, problem is when brain start wondering and wont let you sleep or relax and just keep going on.

Ya, times come in life when you have to make desission for better or worst and you'll have to live by it but dont blame no one, it wont help any.

I think he was trying to cheer me up.