Friday, 26 October 2012

Why, despite everything, I like being in Toronto

Every year I read the horoscope for my birthday in the Globe and Mail. This year the offering for the 17th of October suggested I must become very flexible around new ideas and, what is more, that my world is going to turn upside down in the coming year. Oh joy.
I read that prediction while I was in Toronto looking after my mother, who had been hospitalized with pneumonia. This unexpected event did change my plans, but I can’t say my world was turning cartwheels. However, I did experience several opportunities, during those 10 or 11 days, to roll with some figurative punches.
I am not a person who enjoys public displays, but sometimes one can’t avoid them. Even bad hospital food is better than none (and to give credit where credit is due, after the first ghastly offering in emerge, the other meals were not too bad even though the yellow beans were always underdone, according to Mum).  Anyway, when Mum was moved (the sixth of eight moves in the fortnight she spent in hospital) to a new floor just at lunchtime, I made sure her lunch would not be forgotten. It was successfully transferred to the new floor.

However, just as it was being delivered, a porter arrived and announced it was time for a CT scan. Fearing lunch would disappear if we left it in the new room, I took it with us on the gurney. I steadied the hot food on the flannelette sheets to warm up Mum’s cold legs and in my other hand I carried a carton of frozen dessert.
Soon we were nine floors down, outside the Imaging Unit, waiting for the previous patient to finish.  So in the very public hallway, I served up what I nostalgically call “yuck slosh” the name my daughter gave to good old hamburger casserole and prefaced by the words “not eating that.” Mum, however, did eat it; after, she continued on to what had once been lime sherbet, but was now garish green foam. And not one of the many passersby gave us a second glance.
The next day at Toronto-Western, it was wait for the eye doctor all morning in a room decorated with only a cross -section of the glaucoma-afflicted eye, and then after lunch, undertake a surprise visit to the x-ray department. While there, a gurney, occupied by a comatose individual and accompanied by two policemen, arrived and was parked against the wall near Mum. It was busy in x-ray that afternoon. The men in blue (well, black, actually) looked out of place amongst the gurneys; no one else was fully clothed or standing (except for me) or carrying a gun.  
Noticing her age, the x-ray tech had asked for her secret for a long life, and she said, “Oatmeal porridge every morning.”  When one of the policemen heard she was almost 94, he said she reminded him of his grandmother who was about to turn 95. Then the two of them chatted about the merits of hot porridge with milk and brown sugar which he enjoyed for breakfast too.
Then the talk turned to haircuts. Mum’s shortish hair had been pushed up to the top of her head and looked like a Mohawk do. The policeman said his hair was a lot like hers and took off his hat to reveal a very short cut with a bit of a fringe on top. Mum looked at it, didn’t miss a beat and said, “Well you certainly got your money’s worth.”

I decided to stop spending a fortune on cab fares and to take the TTC to the hospital. I hesitated before asking for my senior’s fare on the 18th of October, as I did not have my birth certificate with me as proof. However without a moment’s hesitation, the attendant in the booth gave me my five senior’s tickets for $8.75. Emboldened, I asked what if I had to use them where there was no attendant, and he said I’d have to use regular tokens. This seems so typical of the poor old TTC.

I was slightly put out by that and by the fact that he did not ask me for ID. How times change yet stay the same. I recall being asked for ID in drinking establishments long after I turned 21 and being miffed by that too.
Travelling by subway is cheap but crowded. I eschew stairs now that I am a senior, and since the elevator at the Bathurst station was closer than the escalator, I opted to take it. So did a choleric elderly individual in a red Roots bomber jacket and red running shoes. Muttering loudly to himself, he punched the up-button furiously while a small older (than me? maybe not) woman, dressed in black from head to toe, joined us. I glanced at her and raised my eyebrows slightly, and she gently reached over and patted my arm.

An older man approached, hesitated, then apparently decided valour was more important than discretion, since two members of the weaker sex had stayed put (for I have an annoying conviction that even those with mental difficulties ought to be polite and share space), and he got on too. We three huddled at the rear of the car, while Mr. Hot Head ranted incoherently in the front. Too late, I realized he had a cane. I suggested not making too much in the way of eye contact, and he must have overheard me because he raised the volume, though not his cane. I began to re-think some of my stupider convictions.

The elevator door closed with majestic slowness, and we rose like a vertical Anglican procession to the next floor. Mr. Hot Head scurried out to take his place (unchallenged) at the head of the line for the Bathurst streetcar. Then the woman, again wordlessly, gave me another comforting pat on the arm and we parted with a smile. And that is why I enjoy being in Toronto.
After a few days, I had to leave Mum to go home for a while. At Union Station, I was listening to the Agnus Dei from Bach’s B-minor Mass, as I sat in pre-boarding for the train to St. Mary’s. There was an overlay of voices other than the alto: “Last call for Train 66”;  “Do you want the elevator”; I depended entirely on the kindness of strangers to carry this TV here”; I’m going to wait until I have my two days off to do that”; “The train for Ottawa is now boarding at 5:45, not 5:30.”

It was a bit like that wonderful Simon and Garfunkel tune where Silent Night is in the back ground — only less grave. The wonderful music was a surreal juxtaposition to the bustle of the station, especially when the next cut on my random play list was the 20-minute Lamentations of Jeremiah. I am beginning to like travelling with my computer the Zen state of waiting is entirely different from that provided by a book.


Then a minor embarrassment — or too much of a Zen thing.  Once I was on the train, I plugged in the electric cord for the Wi-Fi, got my mouse attached, then decided to listen to my music, so I got out my ear phones and put them on. Soon I was hearing Dream a Little dream of me, but it seemed rather distant.

I noticed the passengers in the seats in front of me were suddenly restless and shifting in their seats. Even I could sense irritation in the air. Then I realized I had neglected to plug the ear phones into the computer. No wonder the music sounded so far way. Ouch.

After what seemed like an eternity, I found the right port and plugged in the ear phones. All was right with the world again. I listened to Philip Glass, Healey Willan and 50s faves, and the woman in front of me contentedly resumed reading Scoop.