Rapt attention

Monday, May 8, 2017


I am just back from visiting my brother in Toronto. Operating on four and a half hours sleep so you will have to excuse me for any literary or personal malpractice that I may commit, at least in the near term.

My brother is quite ill but I am happy to report that he is in no way in a final chapter, in fact I hold out a real hope that he will somehow find a recovery.

Maybe he will get in a study, maybe he gets there through sheer will, I can definitely see him winning this thing.

I flew into Canada not really knowing what I would encounter. But I am far from writing an epitaph.

The reality is that I found a very tough person under the care of a loving and supportive family and a good team of doctors. If he can get a hold of certain factors that are responsible for a lot of his physical pain I think he may be able to kick this thing in the ass. That is my hope anyway.

I can't begin to describe to you how much I love my younger brother. Because we both collectively experienced what can only be characterized as an unbelievable childhood that really defies description, lashed to a mast back to back, facing the turbulent storm of a brilliant but insane mother and a host of evil bit players, we often only had each other to rely on. And we did. And I have a deep fear of losing this fulcrum, this big piece of me, not to mention institutional memory.

Along with my wife, the person I love the most.

For all of our similarities, which are many, our lives separated and we formed very different identities. While I followed my mother's irritating inclination as a constant communicator and person who really never met a stranger, my brother was more built like my immigrant father, a man with  a bark who found solace in his tight knit family, now populated by wife, children, grandchildren, dog and inlaws, not to mention siblings.

I have an insane desire to reach out and cultivate a multitude of friendships, he is a much more private person who requires much less interaction or people in his orbit. Like my father. A great guy beneath a flinty exterior.

I love, appreciate and admire this family, very much. This somewhat private family. If I have divulged too much, I apologize.

Buzz and I lost a sister in a car wreck in 1983. Amie. Sixteen, way too young. It was fast and it was the worst hurt I ever have experienced.  But I think slow maybe hurts even worse. And everybody on the planet experiences it sooner or later. Unfortunately.

I arrived in darkness and took the train to the Union Express and then caught a cab to the condo. Expedia tried to mitigate my hotel tsoris and found me a new room. But there was something a little odd about the whole deal.

I had to meet a girl in a red scarf at a cafe in a market and then get a key. But she couldn't enter the front door with me as the room skirted some condo, rental code. It was all very furtive.

Walk to the last elevator, don't make contact with the doorman or concierge. Await further instruction.  Like a drug deal. In any case it was a lovely room, twenty seventh floor. Psychedelic lights morphed in wild chromatic refractions in my urban skyline.

I like Toronto. I like it more and more. I am beginning to get more familiar with the city. The kind of knowledge that comes from getting a bit lost and walking the streets.

When right wing friends email and bemoan the nasty muslims or any other condition that they consider a multicultural abomination I point them to Toronto, a city where for the most part, everybody gets along quite well, respective of color, creed or orientation.

A great city, prosperous and seemingly inhabited by the young and vital, not to mention exuding the legendary Canadian "nice."

For a country guy I do remarkably well in certain urban environments, Paris, New York and Toronto come to mind. I rediscover a piece of me that I forget sometimes, the kid who grew up in Manhattan and felt like he owned the place.


The first morning in Toronto, now cold and drizzly, I was walking over to a crêpery when I encountered a brilliant but insane street person living on a grate. He had three cigarettes hanging out of his mouth at different angles and stared me straight in the eye.

"They say that 2014 was the best year for cheerios," he intoned in a clear voice. This one hit me right in the gut and I doubled over laughing. You ever meet a street or insane person and think that they may have been easily recognized as comic geniuses if they could have controlled their particular disease or addiction? You listen to the stream of consciousness sometimes and it can be quite profound if not comical.

I remember some wise sage of my youth, maybe Thaddeus Golas, once wrote that any person you meet can be the required teacher. Sometimes it can be rewarding to listen.

I continued up the road, snapped a shot or two. With camera and occasionally phone. Not many mind you, this week was not about photographs.

Always had a soft spot for the ignobility of birds perching on sculptures' heads. I know that I am somewhat immature.

Later I saw this poignant graffiti written on a wood box on Queen.

"Stay away from people who make you feel like you're hard to love."

Wise words. And stay away from people who aren't inclined to reciprocate or to tend your mutual garden. I am sure that we have all had those. Perhaps I expect too much...

I walked on to the hospital, a fairly long distance from my perch off Adelaide and saw this man, Ross, carving duck decoys out of soft wood.

Ross may have been undergoing some hard times but I liked him. We talked ducks and he showed me a goldeneye that he had just finished. Nice, honest man, hope he catches a break.

Buzz was getting iron, they found a new virus that might have been at the root of some of these difficulties and were now treating it.  I hung around until it was time to walk back before it got too dark. 

I headed over to Spadina for dumplings. I had missed those pan fried marvels. Got the steamed and the pan fried, the latter far better. 

I stupidly mentioned XLB and was quickly admonished by the owner, an entirely different province. He, with good nature, came back to tell me that his dumplings kicked xlb's ass, several times, as if I had insulted his integrity somehow by mentioning the cuisine.

Seriously I think I know my dumplings and my Chinese food and these are the best I have ever had. No close second.

Walked to my new and temporary home. Took a few shots of the lovely skyline, always presenting differently in the mist.

Next day was more of the same as the two after that. Won't belabor the trip. Very happy I went. Hope to go back soon.

Managed some more great food.

Like this hand pulled noodle house near Toronto General on Edwards.

GB Noodles is a new place. Five or six styles of noodles, pulled right before your eyes and ears. This type of noodle is from Lan zhou, a northeastern region of China.

Lunch is periodically interrupted by a loud slam as the noodles are 
whacked on the counter before they are pulled and formed. I will take video next time.

I had a nice bowl of beef and number three noodle with spicy cucumbers. Yum!

I am such a maniac I went back to Chinatown that night for King's Noodle. My second time at King's I was missing their roast pork and barbecued duck.

The roast duck at King's is so amazing, the skin so crisp and crunchy. Worth the price of admission.

Meal wasn't quite as good as last time. Would skip the duck next time. Go for soup or something else.

Managed to bargain for a bite of the salted doughnut from the two frat boys sitting stage left at the community table. Meh.

Speaking of bargaining, I thoroughly embarrassed a large portion of my family when I conned a couple sweet girls in the visiting room out of a couple slices of Uncle Testu's famed Japanese cheesecake.

I frankly don't get all the long lines, clamor and acclaim. Dry, boring and tasteless, at least to me. Would settle for a piece of Junior's or Lindy's any day, philistine that I am.

Oh well, it was awfully nice of them to offer. Did I mention that Canadians were exceedingly nice? Although a bit neurotic in ways.

I ordered a sausage and egg thingie at Starbucks the next day and the patty was cold. I told them that it was no problem but they demanded to reheat it, did I really think Canadians ate their sausage cold? Hadn't given it much thought, didn't mean to offend.

I think that I must have an obsessive passion for food, probably covering up for some major personal deficiency. I know that I came to Canada to focus on my poor brother.

Some people write sonnets in order to come to grips with their grief, I look to dim sum. Which I did not get this trip. Another reason to come back, a trip to Dynasty. Although I hear the places in Markham are good too.

Neat store front

Dealing with my grief the best way I can.

This is a tough thing, feel like it might be my toughest year ever. Would change places with my brother in a second. But we don't get that chance. Easy to say, I know. Going to send him a package of  my old underground comics and some three d socks tomorrow.

Waiting for a miracle.