No clue. Why now? Don’t honestly know. The city was calling me. All the way from the Prairies. [add Darth Vader-like voice here] “James. Come back to Toronto James. It is your (wait for it) D-E-S-T-I-N-Y…” Something like that. One day I’m driving to work, next thing I know I am parking at the airport and catching the next flight to Toronto. I can’t go and quit my job. It’s my company. But truthfully it never entered my head anyway. Toronto is calling. I have to go there. Stat.
And when I took the cool new train from the airport to Union Station I felt like I was catapulted head first, maybe face first into the history and the future.
Some things I recognize as I roll into the station. Funny old city landmarks like the Mr. Christie’s water tower now surrounded by glassy shiny condos or the old Inglis roof sign on what always looked like a dilapidated factory, now more so.
Some things I do not recognize as I walk out to the sunny streets. Some fantastic junky fire trap bars I used to visit close to Union Station are now high end lighting stores and micro-plate tapas hipster red lumberjack bearded $10 craft beer long table no atmosphere man bun stand around hang-outs. That is progress hard at work.
The only place I could think of to stay was the Sheraton Centre across from Nathan Phillips Square (across the street from the photo). It’s a horrible hotel right in the heart of the city. One review said the rooms “are not as clean as perhaps they should have been.” Very kind review. They are DIRTY. The hotel is not just tired. It gave up on life. There’s an old line that says you can’t be in critical condition forever. The patient either lives or dies. Except when you visit the Sheraton. Critical condition since the 80’s, and still no one has pulled the plug. Heaven knows all the organs stopped working long ago.
When I lived in Toronto there were three pizza places within three blocks of here. Two-for one, three-for-one and seriously, four-for-one. They were the same sizes but just cut more, and they were equally terrible. But cheap and open at 3 am when you will eat sheet metal you are so hungry and probably drunk. But I digress.
I came all the way here without anything. No luggage. No change of clothes. No toothbrush. Not even my medicine cabinet full of vitamins I take every day as if life itself was on the line.
So I just moved about $12,000 in dirty money to my pants and coat, stuck the dirty money carrying case still stuffed full of cash (and the gun) under my hotel bed, and ventured out to buy a suit (who knows why), some other basics, and stopped at the front desk and prepaid a month in my hotel room using cash.
If I did my counting right I will be down to just over $280,000 after the $12,000 withdrawal. So I’m good for the next month if I watch my money wisely.
And just to be sure I scanned for any truck or anyone carrying a camera, just in case someone was broadcasting a new version of the Truman Show. And I am Truman. That get away from Euclid had me a bit rattled.
Here is a picture of 324 Euclid Street. Like every house in the area. Lawn mower? For what? No lawn. Bricks and gates, and crumbling front stairs. I especially like the dead tree. But then again that thin house with the crumbling stairs and dead tree is worth over $1 million, probably a lot more than that. That is the reality of living in Canada’s American city. Every extra benefit of living in a fully developed city costs a lot just to be there. People who live in the city don’t have cars. No where to park them and truthfully the transit system actually works in Toronto.
When I lived on Euclid, not far from this house, there was a slaughter house about a block away, which was very odd since we were only a block or two from Bloor Street. One morning I was heading to the subway, going to work at the salt mine (I was working at Domtar Chemicals, marketing…well…salt…) when a cow ran by me. It was heading to the open area of the fields with freedom in his eyes and a pack of big Italian guys with bloody bibs chasing after him. I was rooting for the cow though I suspect he didn’t have much of a chance.
What to say… What to say in my coat, with gun and money and all that jazz. Knock on the door and ask if they recognize the briefcase? Maybe just shoot them. I have a gun. Ring the doorbell, leave the case and run? All those ideas did not seem smart at all. So I sat on the curb, across the street, curious to see someone arrive or leave.
I did not have to wait long. A young guy, winter toque on in the middle of the frickin’ summer, kind of jeans that somehow stopped at the ankles with some stretchy-tightened bottom, running shoes (no socks), stupid current beard, crossed the street right in front of me, knocked on the door of the innocuous white van parked a few feet from me, side door opens, he gets in, lots of discussions and yelling, and he comes out and walks quickly back to me.
“Are you fucken gonna do something or what? We can’t wait here all day. Knock on the door! Knock on the fucken door! What the hell are you waiting for?” I stared back.
“Get back in the truck. We’re screwed now. You fucked it up like you always do dickhead. In the truck!” It was another beard by the truck.
“My apology sir,” said the kid. “Sit on the curb all you want to. Sorry to have bothered you. OK, well, bye.” He ran back to the van, the side door shut and the truck just sat there.
Something is not right. I’m dead here. Set up. Someone is going to kill me now. Think cow. Run.
Now that I think of it we didn’t use real names when we were young. We came up with creative ones. We had Dead Boy. Dr. Danger. Hank Wright. Jay Bird (that was me).
And how about this. Big. We called her Big. But she was not. Not by a long margin. In fact she may have been about five foot nothing. But she was big. In personality. In style. In her incredible bluntness. In her angled dyed black hair. She thought she was big and I was afraid to argue.
Her dad was a VP of the Royal Bank—no kidding— and she was the bad ass daughter. In between the ever explosive times with Her (HRM) I had Big in my life. And that was just fine with Big. A lot of years have passed and truthfully I’d be guessing her real name now. A name I never called her. So let’s stick with Big.
“Where’s Big?” Hank Wright would ask. “Um…beside you..” That small. The day we met at the Black Bull across from City TV she simply asked if she could come home with me. Classic. And if I got back together with Her she’d say, “Oh for fuck sakes…” and that would be that.
I didn’t mention the fact Big was a drug addict but I guess I better let it slip now. Since I was her carrier when we went to clubs and such places. The hidden pocket at the bottom of my houndstooth coat. Frisk me if you may but no one is going to find this darn pocket. Never did. Not until Dickie found the key and the note in the new old coat.
Big and I, we’d be apart for months, all the while I’m carrying a thousand dollars worth of some drug in my secret pocket. Big didn’t care. Her dad kept her flush with drug money.
And that is one person I’d love to see now. Did she settle down (unlikely) and become a housewife? Tycoon? Did she grow up at all? Is she dead? Not like I can research and find out. I don’t even know her first name. But if I could guess I would say she figured things out, went to university and became a powerful leader. She was super smart.
My M/O. Smart women. Her (Jean) was very smart. I thought she’d be the Prime Minister and not an elementary school teacher. Big (?) was very smart, someone who could destroy anyone in Trivial Pursuit. At that age I couldn’t tell you what country was next to another country. But she could. And she had an incredible knowledge of so many things. History. Politics. Music. And she had the incredible ability to answer complex math problems in her head. What is 2,345 multiplied by 8,742? A blank look would come rolling over her face, and then the answer, always right, twenty million four hundred and ninety-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety. Always. Always. Right.
And today, as I walk down Euclid wearing an exact replica of my earlier houndstooth coat, carrying a briefcase of cash and passports (and for fun I moved the loaded gun into my coat pocket) I reminisce about the lovely people who came in and out of my life.
The her in question was Jean. My friends called her “her.” Are you bringing her with you? If so I’m not going.” Her was short for Her Royal Majesty. The Queen with a capital Q. High maintenance, proper, legendary scowl, hair tied down like it was ready for a storm. And by the end of the night the storm would hit, and everyone around her would be bowled over like a sloth at a shooting gallery. I was the main target. I loved it.
Jean was reduced to her. It even went as far as using her when it was grammatically incorrect. “When is her coming to the party?” Or, “I heard her went home for the weekend. We should do something.”
Yes, I lived with her on Euclid when we were both 22 years old, the second floor of an old brick house, and one very big landlord. Tony was large. And I’m not sure how this happened but while we lived there Tony got married to the most attractive woman I’ve ever seen, and within six months she was large.
I left her in many places over the next five or so years. I left her on Euclid. I left her in a government subsidized bachelor apartment by St. Clair station. Then eventually she’d call me, blast me into pieces and I’d be mush for her again and we’d repeat the process.
Now her is a teacher in Downsview, married with two kids. She looked me up a few years back, befriended me on Facebook, told me her life to now, then unfriended me and disappeared. This time she left me. I had it coming.
And now I was walking down our street, Euclid, a briefcase full of goodies and an address written in pencil on the top $100 bill.
There was a long green line painted on the sidewalk, as if green meant go. But I don't think that was the point. It was saying, and I may be paraphrasing...follow the line. Do no sway, stray, cross over, stay on track. So I did. Following down a street I have not been down since I was in my 20's. Over 30 years ago. Yonge Street. So I couldn't have seen it coming. I was following the line. I stopped and looked right at the window, Ethel, a consignment store, and in the window was me. Thirty years ago. Houndstooth coat. Full length. So full length as I remember it that it came almost to my ankles and I am close to six feet. I broke the rules. Steered over the green line and into the store, asked for the coat, bought it without trying it on, and veered back to the green line looking for a dry cleaner.
My coat 30 years ago never went to a dry cleaner. I bought it at a Salvation Army store and wore it out of the store. That was that. But now I can actually clean things properly. And when I saw Dickies I was excited. A landmark. The same sign since I suspect it was hung a hundred years ago. I dropped off the coat and was excited to hear they could have it back to me by the next day.
So when the next day arrived, a Friday - June 12 to be exact, my first step off the green line was to go back into Dickies.
The cashier saw me coming and had the coat ready for me. A small envelope was stapled to the dry cleaning bag. "There's a secret pocket on this coat, at the bottom, with a zipper," she offered. "Yes, I remember that. Was there something in the secret pocket?"
"Yes," said the cashier. "Yes indeed. Bob wanted to keep it, Bob Dickie that is, the owner. But I said no. Not yours to keep. He usually keeps the money but I don't have any problems with that. Leave money in your clothes we will take it. But this was not money. No sir. Much more...how do I say it best...mysterious? Interesting perhaps. Go ahead. Open up the envelope."
I did. And in the envelope was the front of a cigarette package, Cameo Menthol, with the words "help me" scrawled across the back and a locker key. No big mystery on the key front. It had the Union Station logo on it. Locker 1981. Union Station.
"So you are going to tell us if there's a dead body in there right? Dickie is dying to know. Dickie loves a good mystery."
I promised I would. I was only a few blocks from Union Station, Front Street. And it took all of five minutes to be standing in front of the locker in question. Number 1981. Stuck the key in. Turned the lock and it opened.
Hanging from a string at eye level was the other side of the cigarette package, two new words. "Thank you."
And in the locker a briefcase containing money. Lots of money. In bills. Tens of thousands. Maybe hundreds of thousands. And over a dozen passports, all different countries, with no names of photos. Oh and a gun. Forgot that part. A very shiny handgun. Loaded. And if that wasn't enough there was an address written in pencil on the first bill. 324 Euclid Avenue. Bathurst subway station. I used to live there, on Euclid. Not sure of the number but I lived there. With her. The dreaded her. And I remembered the owner.
I had a dilemma. Turn it in? Or keep it? So I kept it. And walked toward the subway to make my way to my old neighbourhood in the heart of Little Italy.