Toronto is a magnificent city! It is vivacious, diverse, beautiful, tidy, and well managed. I quickly forgot the exquisite province just north frozen in an arrogant berg of patois. Toronto was occupied by a range of friendly people from everywhere in the world, all busy living and working in relative harmony. I felt welcomed and warm. I located a hostel and registered, eagerly anticipating a pleasant visit.
It was early in the afternoon and I had plenty of time to explore. There was a midnight curfew at the hostel, which was fine by me. I was generally in long before that, and up bright and early. Of course, being not just a noble explorer charting the railways across this great continent, but a tourist as well, I went to the CN tower, the tallest building in the world at the time, I believe is how it was touted. I was not the only tourist visiting this structure, and found myself crammed into a back corner of an elevator that took over four minutes to get to the top.
While playing hide and seek as a child I once hid in an old trunk that had been kept in the basement. When I closed the cover the latch somehow locked, and I was trapped inside the small, dark, stifling compartment for nearly an hour. I was virtually buried alive, and literally frightened to death. I would scream for help, push on the lid, cry, scream for help again, pound on the lid, and cry some more, and nobody heard me. Eventually Trevor found me and went for help. The key for this old coffer – or coffin as it felt to me – had long been lost and the latch had to be pried open. There was my father. I grasped Pappy’s neck so securely and completely that when I lightened my grip we were both gasping for air. I sobbed like a baby and followed Pappy around for the rest of the day. I do not know if I inherited claustrophobia, but I had amplified its effects upon my life during that incident.
Four minutes does not sound like much, but the trip to the top of CN tower, sardined into that elevator, was suffocating. I experienced a claustrophobic reaction that filled my head with dark, morbid images of that youthful horror, and my Tell Tale Heart began pounding louder and louder until I thought that I would scream. The doors finally opened, and although I did not see Pappy’s eyes, I was relieved to have not seen Poe’s.
The view from atop was magnificent, a grand panorama of the city and Lake Ontario. A chilly northern breeze was blended with the winds of many bearings, and swirled passionately about. At this height the wind is master. I gratefully inhaled that precious air. Folks mingled at the top for indefinite amounts of time, and to my relief, the ride back down was not crowded. I have no fear of heights, provided there is elbowroom, but I was happy to be grounded again.
I was having a splendid time. I rode the subway. If everything is well lit, capacious, and in motion I do not experience moments of confined panic, but long tunnels can affect me. Toronto has a subway system that must surely be the envy of any municipality that takes pride in their method of public transportation. I rode the buses at random, seeing the sights. I chatted with folks, and asked where I might find some hot pasta and some cool jazz. There are numerous excellent eateries and entertainment venues in this flourishing community of creativity. I was cheerfully directed to several places, and eventually selected a nice spot for the evening.
The café was two floors, live entertainment on the first level, and dining on the second. A balcony curved around the upper height and overlooked the stage. I was lucky to have been seated at a small two-top along the railing with a terrific view of the band, which was just getting warmed up. Dana had very short, black hair, and rich blue eyes that could entice seraphs into temptation.
“May I bring you something to drink?” she asked, as I looked up at her.
I will never forget that look. Here was a kindred spirit and I recognized it immediately, as did she. We looked deep into each other for a long moment, identifying, recalling, acknowledging.
“Do I know you?” I asked shyly. “I’ll have a Campari and soda.”
Again, she stalled for a moment. “Yes, of course, Campari and soda. My name is Dana.”
The band began with smooth dinner music that floated through the small café exuding an aperitif of rhythms and timbre. My cocktail arrived.
“You are a dancer?” I asked.
She looked cautiously surprised. I profoundly surprised myself by having said it. There was no reason for me to have known that, and she and I both discerned such. Or, was there?
Dana was indeed a dancer, or had tried for some time to become a dancer. She had trained many years for ballet, but as time would have it, her body bloomed, and her feet weakened. She was now in theater. An actress and she was realizing a moderate degree of recognition, yet waiting tables while awaiting fame. She rested her hand on my shoulder as I ordered, and experienced eye contact that bridged time.
It is said, after New York and London, that Toronto includes the third largest theater district in the English-speaking world. There are as many as forty productions playing at any given time. One can find classical productions, Broadway musicals, a vast medley of nouveau performances, opera, and ballet. All the world is a stage, and Toronto is a tribute. I had the odd feeling that my world was about to take center stage as well.
As the dinner hours concluded the band picked up the pace. A large black man stepped up and blew a small tenor sax, then two at a time, with such heat that everyone froze momentarily in awe. Then a small dance floor filled and this little café bounced with glee and eluded time itself. I was innocently carried away by the merriment well past midnight – my curfew at the hostel.
“Are you a dancer?” Dana surprised me.
She was off duty and chose to join me, as I willingly agreed.
“No, but if you are asking me to dance, I would be delighted.”
Dana and I danced – well, Dana danced and I happily attempted to keep pace – until closing time, resting occasionally for a Campari, which was paradoxically her beverage of choice.
“I have turned into a pumpkin.” I declared at the end of last call. I could not get back into the hostel that night. I was invited to stay at her apartment; she had a sleeper sofa to which I was welcome.
Her apartment was stylish. She had a flair for decorating, complete with a rather large, very quiet dog that sat in vigilance the whole time I was there – making no noise. Dana and I talked for two late hours before she retired to her room, taking Cowboy with her. That name struck me as absurdly coherent with this unfolding pas de deux. He was the quietest cowboy I had ever met, however, and I was relieved that she closed her bedroom door.
At breakfast Dana and I were joined by Annette. I was introduced, and received a quiet look of contempt, not unlike Cowboy’s. Dana and Annette were very much in love, as was explained to me the night before. They were both lovely women, petite, with milky white skin, undulating hips, and thin red lips. After breakfast Annette excused herself, and Dana offered to show me around Toronto. She also made accessible her sleeper sofa and bathroom facilities for several days if I cared to accept.
I wanted to visit some art galleries or museums while in Toronto, and Dana eagerly became my guide. We went to the AGO, Art Gallery of Ontario, and merrily led each other through the vast collections, paying more attention to each other than the art. Then she took me to the Bata Shoe Museum.
Now this was an unexpected sight. The Bata Shoe Museum is located near the University of Toronto, and is just what it says, a mesmerizing and immense collection of shoes. The collection contains over ten thousand shoes, boots, sandals, and other footwear that represents the footprint of forty-five hundred years of historical covers for the feet. There are sensible, fashionable, abstract, arrogant, funny, futuristic, fantastic, plain, and just plain odd items for the foot, housed in this unusual museum. Dana and I laughed gaily as we tangoed through an entertaining couple of hours there.
She was no through yet, however. I had requested art museums, and Dana was delighting in showing me the gamut. Next, we visited a museum of erotic art. Here was a collection of paintings, drawings, sculpture, devices, books, postcards, and gifts that included something for everyone, and some things for no one – at least not in my wildest imagination. As Dana led me through this unanticipated place, our fun subdued to a more pensive state of mind, and body. We occasionally held hands and stood for silent periods of time gawking, or smiling, or fantasizing. This experience was sensual and confusing. I was uncertain what to think, and certain not to think it verbally. Dana and I would surprise each other with ongoing moments of eye contact that transcended comprehension, as did this whole fandango. The sunlight was bright and intense as we withdrew to the outdoors. Wow, we laughed. I was rather nervous, but I didn’t get the impression that she was.
“I want to cook tonight?” Dana said, with a modulation in her voice that was as much a question as a declaration.
“I think that is a grand idea.” I replied. “I would like to help.”
“Shall we expect Annette?” I followed up carefully with a hint of awkward confusion in my voice.
“No.” Her answer was concise, and I left it at that.
The Lawrence Market is in an enormous brick building dating back to the nineteenth century. It is considered Toronto’s largest market. Inside, one can find a cornucopia of produce stalls, fish stands, meat shops and delicatessens, which offer a feast of foods for all occasions and fancies. This was a veritable gallery of epicurean pleasures, and a fine finale for a visually delectable day that had stirred both Dana and my appetites. We selected items for a mostly vegetarian meal, a nice piece of fish, a light pasta primavera, and fruit for dessert, and returned to her apartment. We cooked, ate, shared two bottles of red, and talked late into the night as Cowboy watched and listened. Then she and Cowboy retired to her bedroom.
I remained in Toronto for over a week, enthusiastically accepting Dana’s hospitality and company. We discussed the world and the universe, life and death, sex and sensuality, politics, and business. She was scheduled to audition for a part in a local production, and I read alternative roles as she practiced hers. Cowboy maintained his silent vigilance, growling only a couple of times as I became overly dramatic while I read, to which I quickly toned down my thespian zeal. During our time together Dana and I never hugged, never kissed, and never confronted any arcane, corporeal desires that may have been laboring for culmination. Also, after our momentary encounter over breakfast, I never again saw Annette. I could not remain in this ethereal continuum forever, and it came time for me to move on.
When I informed Dana that I had arranged to stay the night at the hostel, and was leaving the next morning, she looked out at Toronto from her second-floor apartment. A light rain had begun to fall.
“Where do you go next?” she asked imperviously.
West, Vancouver. Can you meet me at Union Station in the morning?” I inquired sentimentally.
“I’m having breakfast with Annette… maybe, I don’t know.”
Union Station is an immense building that spans an entire city block on Front Street, over seven hundred and fifty feet in length. As one goes through the main entryway, they come into the Great Hall and pass beneath the arch that rises eighty-eight feet above the floor. Here passengers get information, purchase tickets, and enjoy refreshments as they await the arrival or departure of their train. Down the stairs at the Arrival Concourse one can explore an array of underground malls and walkways that link numerous buildings in the downtown area. Union Station is a stunning architectural accomplishment. I sipped on some stout coffee, enjoyed the wonderful building, watched the rain outside, and looked around for Dana. My train arrived. She did not.
“All Aboard – for Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, and Vancouver!”
Several penetrating blasts of the whistle summoned any stragglers aboard. The day was gray and pensively melancholy, as I traced the raindrops dripping down the window of the train. A moment of déjà vu shimmied along my spine and shook my senses, as if for a second I had returned to childhood and was reaching up for the refuge of Pappy’s hand. An elusive image of Marshal Curley Wilcox reflected in the window at the seat across from me where I had placed my backpack. I was eager to head west, through the vast open plains, to the majestic mountains, and the powerful Pacific. I hadn’t seen the Ringo Kid for several years. It would be good to see Trevor. The locomotive jerked into motion and the rhythm of the wheels slowly began. I glanced back and saw no one theatrically running along the platform, chasing a fleeting heart, and I breathed a sigh of release. A fond farewell Toronto, you are a spectacular city, and I shall return!
“Curley, it’s going to be a long ride, let’s have a whiskey or two in the club car.”
The journey through Ontario runs along the upper perimeter of the Georgian Bay and Lake Huron, and is a quagmire of northern rivers, lakes, and ponds. The subtle hues of this water world melted in the rain as we passed. I struck up a conversation with a Dutchman from Rotterdam named Ari, and we shared several whiskeys, a Heineken or two, and a dozen salutes! After which, I teetered to my seat and slept easily for several hours. Frugally I chose not to afford the luxury of a sleeper car, and for the next several days I would creatively take my rest in an assortment of contortions in the passenger coach.
A political line and a slight change of dialect ostensibly separates the Canadian great plains from those of the U.S. They are geographically one as you watch through a passing window. Small villages look the same, and small-town people perform the same daily chores. Farmers farm and raise livestock. The amber waves of grain bend to apolitical winds that cross any border at will. And, the footprints of the extinct were embedded in the Earth from long before this age of pollution and greed. There is dignity, and mystery, in these Great Plains that without their presence would leave mountains and oceans detached and incomplete. I have great admiration for the folks who quietly subsist in the middle; who have no need to scale the heights, or sail the deep. With my gratitude, they harvest the wheat.
We were delayed in Jasper, not far from Banff, for a couple of hours, which gave me the chance to stretch my legs, and breathe the brisk mountain air. I would like to have spent some time there, perhaps camping along Lake Louise, but I was conserving my funds – and I really didn’t desire the company of another woman who would captivate my tenuous sensibilities with her great pulchritude only to be torn away by a civilization that demands the prostitution of one’s spirit for the debts of progress. I had no doubt that Louise was beautiful and charming, and that I could have lingered there indefinitely, seeking her hand in marriage.
I sat on a bench in the warm sun contemplating the extraordinary range of mountains that rose dramatically into the clouds, with one foot on the plains, and the other at the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Mountains are a great grandfather that stands as a timeless liaison between man and God. Sometimes God descends from the mountains to the desert. Most of the time man scales the mountains seeking God. All’Booaaard! – The whistle resounded loud and clear in the thin mountain air as it signaled us to the train for this extraordinarily scenic part of our transcontinental adventure.
Spectacular scenery is endless as the Western Transcontinental chugs its way over the great divide, and then weaves downward into Vancouver. The observation car becomes uncomfortably crowded with sightseers. Much of the time I chose to stand between cars leaning from the half opening where the view is unobstructed, and the wind is sharp and fresh. Downward through the mountains we went, eventually arriving at sea level, and Vancouver.
Vancouver is the premier westernmost city in Canada. I stayed there for several days visiting the wonderful museums, beautiful parks, historic Gastown District, and carried on conversations with the locals as they expressed their disdain at the government from the east that taxed them and depleted their natural resources, all the while treating them like a displaced stepchild. Never did they not love Canada, rather they felt politically under-appreciated. During my time there I acquired an indisputable affection for Canada as well. The U.S. is fortunate that it is that great country that stands strong and passive at out northern border. Thank you Oh Canada!
I was eager to see Trevor, though, and soon caught the bus to Seattle. He knew to expect me, but not when. I had his address, and knew that he was operating a booth during the weekends at the Pikes Place market, where he sold scrimshaw jewelry. Pikes Place is a wonderful mixture of produce stands, fish stands, and a variety of wonderful shops, craft booths, street performers, and activity. I did not locate him there, and caught a taxi to his house. He lived in an apartment in a large, three-story house not far from the U district.
I met Butch there. Butch was a black and tan coonhound, and he was as clever as he was charismatic. He lay snoozing on the porch as I approached Trevor’s house, and I hesitated to walk directly to the door. I talked to him in order to test his reaction. Butch opened one eye, and lazily questioned my presence. As I came closer, he closed that eye, and then opened the other. He did not move otherwise. I asked him his name and he sighed, as if annoyed by my behavior, but wagged his tail. I advanced and rubbed his floppy ears.
“His name is Butch.” Trevor spoke from in the doorway.
“Well, then you must be the Ringo Kid.” I chuckled.
It was a long-awaited reunion. We decided to walk to the Red Wing Pub for a beer and to catch up on the last few years. This decision was to Butch’s liking, and he jumped up from his static repose, smiled ardently, and actively led the way. Butch knew the routine. He waited outside while the people intermingled within. If folks left with food, Butch was a starving soul and required sustenance. If they had no food, then Butch was abandoned and abused, starving for attention. If they ignored him, well, he had certainly ignored them first. Often there were other dogs gathered, socializing at this location, as their people left them stationed at the pub door while they were within. Trevor and I leaned against the bar like a couple of thirsty cowboys and ordered up a beer. This was the first time that we had legally had a drink together. We weren’t little boys any longer; we were men making our way in the world, with opinions, experiences, and aspirations that we wanted to share with each other.
Trevor had not become a marine biologist. He had become a member the drama department of the university, and had started chasing illusive dreams of becoming an entertainer – employed. He had performed in several Shakespearean productions and had received some small-town media attention. But he had also become involved in the antiwar movement and had received some notoriety from that as well. Uncle Joe was unable to comprehend the choices that Trevor was making in his life, and angrily insisted that he either change, or move out. Trevor moved out, started making ends meet by painting houses, and appeased his creative urges by working with silver and ivory. Pappy’s blood was running thick through both Trevor and I.
Trevor told me that he had once received a telephone call from a fellow researching his family genealogy. After a brief conversation it appeared that he was not related, but he had heard that there was a Donn Fought living in the Tampa, St Petersburg area. Pappy was indeed there. He had been struggling to make a living. He worked in a small grocery store for a while, painted murals, and he built floats for the Gasparilla Pirate Fest in Tampa. I was later to see photos of one of those floats, and it was a large, green dragon donning a three-corner-hat and brandishing a sword. I recognized this swashbuckling lizard immediately as Snappy, the Dragon. Pappy was eking out a meager existence, and was endearing himself to many people. That night Trevor and I called information in Tampa for Pappy’s telephone number and address, but were unable to locate him. We wondered if he really did live there, if he was still in California, or if he was even yet living. Pirate Fest is an annual event that takes place every February in the Tampa Bay area, and it is quite extensive a celebration. Sir Uck Uck and Snappy had dressed in buccaneer garb and had taken their place in the great, animated procession – Ahoy! Thar they were then, alive, and well.
Several months after Pirate Fest in Tampa, there occurs another grand celebration at the very opposite corner of the country. Seattle hosts Sea Fair, and it was currently in full swing. This is a Naval extravaganza! A fleet of ships steams into Puget Sound, docks, and opens to tours. The Blue Angels show off their wings. The hydroplane races roar noisily on Lake Union. Amateur sailors build milk carton boats for a humorous display of nautical engineering. Miss Sea Fair is selected. There are bike races, a triathlon, torchlight run and parade, arts and crafts, clowns, commodores, and food – it is a summer gala that has become the largest community festival in the Pacific Northwest, and, as I am told, of the top ten festivals in the U.S.
I have never been attracted to large masses of people swarming aimlessly in an epidemic of noise and motion in order to disconnect from the drudgery of their mundane lives. A party for party’s sake is vacant entertainment. Small, more focused, and condensed venues are more to my liking, and normally I would have gone to the mountains during a gathering of this magnitude. But Butch enjoyed the festivities immensely, and in a curmudgeonly way, so did Trevor.
Trevor realized the over indulgent capacity of a party of this scale, but was eager to participate. He had found a small, cone shaped, party hat and with glue and glitter had written on it, “Sea Farce.” It was rather small, and did not fit well on his head, but it did fit Butch. And, Butch looked like the quintessential Sea Fair clown, with the personality to sustain the image. Com’on Dad, he would wag his whole butt, com’on let’s go, and he would slobber and smile. There was a whole lot of sniffing going on and Butch wanted in on it. To a cat-like fellow such as I, this party threatened to be an overwhelming event. To a dog this would be an instinctual hedonistic wonderland.
“Oh, your dog is so cute in his little hat!” A sassy lass would scratch Butch and nudge Trevor.
“Yo, Butch, you’re looking good there.” An old friend would chuckle, give him a pat, and greet Trevor.
“Look at the dog, can I pet him?” children would tug at their parent’s hand and Butch’s butt would wiggle happily.
“Your dog is so precious!” An experienced dog lover would bend over Butch, give him a good petting, and reveal her cleavage to Trevor.
Everyone adored the “Sea Farce,” and they did not hesitate to express their affections. They laughed and told him how delightful he was. They chatted with Trevor. They flirted with Trevor. Butch was a hit – a true entertainer, and judging by the treats and attention he received, he was well employed. Admiration for that dog, in his cute party hat, continued non-stop from morning to evening. I could only tag along and learn from a pro.
After a long and, I must admit, fun filled day, the three of us gravitated toward the house. Before retiring however, Trevor and I wanted to stop at the Red Wing Pub for a couple games of pool and a nightcap or two. As usual, still proudly wearing his hat, Butch would wait out front. Another dog was patiently waiting also, and we figured that Butch would have some company. The pub started to fill up, and we were getting tired from a full day, so after a couple of ales Trevor and I walked outside.
There were several dogs there by now, and they were all gathered around Butch. The “Sea Farce” hat was on the ground. Now, my being a cat person, I cannot say for sure, but I do believe that those other canines were laughing and taunting ol’ Butch.
“Yo, Butch, where did you get the hat?”
“Sea Farce, what’s up with that Butch?”
“Cute hat, now all you need is a little bow tie!”
“Butch, you clown, where’s your big, red nose.”
“Bet they have some reindeer antlers for you at Christmas!”
Butch had a look of genuine embarrassment, and was glad to see Trevor and I. He took his role as leader for the couple of blocks home, though he kept looking back nervously at his friends, and at Trevor who was carrying that confounded hat. When we got home, I consoled Butch by petting him well and telling him that he was the best. I lifted one of his large, floppy ears a bit and whispered,
“Arf.” he politely replied, and slurped my face with a slobbery kiss.
We went to the Seattle Sea Fair the next day, and although Butch had a great time being a dog, he would not wear that hat! Several times we attempted to put it on his head, and he would immediately take it off and glare at us with contempt. If we liked it so much, then we could wear the ridiculous thing ourselves, and he would lift his leg at a tree, or sniff at a bush. He was no damn clown, and that was that! He would, however, never turn down a treat, or a pat, or an accolade for being a darn good ol’ dog. Butch was an accomplished showman, with a personality not unlike Pappy.