The other night I’m walking down Adelaide Street toward home and can hear bits of song in a woman’s voice hurling through the air in pieces. On advancing a half a block it’s clear to me it’s the wild-eyed but otherwise attractive, middle-aged woman standing in the middle of the sidewalk ahead. She’s looking back in the direction I’m coming from, waving her hand toward the bank towers and the new Trump hotel in that kind of drunken-like joy you’d see in schmaltzy old musicals.
“I love this towwwwnnnn!” she bellows in her best Ethel Merman. Her voice sounds pretty good actually, and I love where she has placed herself in her mind. I love schmaltzy old musicals. More – I envy her ability to convey this Ethel Merman aspect of her self-defined truth out there for the world to enjoy with her. Granted, many people are crossing the street to avoid her not seeming to want to share in her truth, but there it is. Despite my own wariness, I like it. Anyway, it reminds me of my sister who has been known to do a very funny Ethel Merman; but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t share it with the Bay Street suits on a Tuesday afternoon.
“I love this town too” I think as I skirt by her, and listening to her bellowing behind me I wonder if maybe her gestures at the bank towers and the hotel with the famous rich guy’s name aren’t of irony rather than joy. But joy sings more often than irony does and I’ve never heard Ethel Merman being ironic have you?
It gets me thinking about a discussion I’d been having with my current batch of writing students on ideas around authenticity and expressing one’s truth. I put it out the idea of the human capacity for people to re-invent themselves, and how this is usually a person’s way of redefining a personal truth, or bringing forward one or more layers of a personal definition and pushing other layers to the back, for whatever reason. Personal writers do that with words.
So many times I have seen mentally ill people in the city streets that seemed desperate to share elements of themselves, some truth that strangers are not interested (or comfortable) in knowing. I wonder about the other layers of that lady – the layers underneath Ethel Merman.
It’s kind of like earlier in the week when I’m having an afternoon tea break in a large food court area near my office. I'm watching a guy, who is sitting by himself, practicing for a job interview. He reviews something on sheets of paper on the table in front of him and then verbally practices a response to the imaginary person sitting in front of him. I know that layer he is pushing to the front; knowledgeable, competent, confident, intelligent. A Bay Street Suit. Beneath the table his hands practice their corresponding gestures: purposeful, passionate, trustworthy.
I silently wish him luck as I walk by, imagining a celebration with a significant someone on his great new gig later that night. I get more engaged with my imaginary version of his reality than with the one he is assuming. But then I don’t find Bay Street Suits and the truths they convey all that interesting. I'd rather know what's going on at his kitchen table.
All week I've been thinking about they layers of me I push forward, and those I push to the back – both in my physical aspect and my writing, wondering how I can use them to enhance or grow the latter. I hope my students are thinking about that too.
This morning it’s deeply overcast; one of those rainy mornings when you wish it was Saturday but it’s really Thursday and so you drag yourself out of bed, late, and don’t care about what the clock says because everybody is late on a rainy day.
The atmosphere has an indigo-charcoal cast and soft, smoky clouds are obscuring the tops of the buildings. It’s warmer than usual and it’s raining lightly but it seems like the rain is coming down hard because of the thrusting winds.
I walk outside and one of those winds sweeps up smacks me wet in the face and so I look at the streetcars approaching the stops outside my building. One going east to Union Station would be a relatively fast ride, and then I could navigate my way through the station and walk the underground malls all the way to my office. I’m gauging the favourableness of that as opposed to the 25 minute blustery rainy walk when I get a look at the steamy windows of the streetcars and I think about the vacant, rude, blackberry punching humanity crammed inside, and that times a hundred teeming through Union Station, and I open up my polka dotted umbrella and tilt it into the wind and walk up into Spadina Avenue for my journey north-east to work.
Right away I smell the rain on the city and I’m glad I’ve chosen the walk, even though gusts blow up one side of me and down the other and I’m hanging on to my umbrella wrestling it back to its job. I get up to Front Street and other people are wrestling their umbrellas too and some are crouched up tight in their hoods and scarves. On King Street the streetcars are glistening behind the swishing windshield wipers and the streets are shining under the rain and the clouds seemed to have sunk down to encompass the coffee shops too.
I get close to Bay Street amidst all the suits and black umbrellas and while I’m waiting for a light I imagine all of those bankerly types suddenly swooping up into the air like the would-be nannies in Mary Poppins, high heels flying off and scarves fluttering; and I imagine them flipping and whirling, getting smaller as they move off past the cloud draped buildings and over the lake toward Niagara Falls.
I get to my office with mashed up hair and a runny nose and I prop my dripping umbrella next to my desk and get myself a cup of jasmine flavoured tea and know that my wet ankles will dry before long.
A favourite song dedicated to the young fellas talking in my office this morning about "just a bunch of damn hippies in a useless 'non-demonstration who didn't have the sense to show up on a weekday.'"
Funny thing was, thirty minutes previous [on this Monday] I'd been waving to the second round of today's march in the "non-demonstration" from the windows of my yoga studio, a few blocks away from our office on Bay Street in Toronto's financial district. And Saturday's "non-demonstration" was, from what I saw, part of a global "non-demonstration" against a kind of insanity no sane person could deny.
And despite all the folks who refuse to look out their windows, peace, love and understanding are beautiful things number sixy-seven, sixty-eight and sixty-nine.