Tuesday, September 07, 2010

On Notice!: Toronto Edition

My annual stint in Toronto is nearing to a close, but before I retreat back to London for my winter hibernation, I had to do a short-term move. When I moved into my recently-departed place in April, it was only on a five-month lease even though I had a six-month work contract lined up. My logic was that it was better to be in a great place for five months than to find a mediocre place for six months. This left me, however, somewhat flying by the seat of my pants for September.

Like Blanche Dubois, however, I found myself relying on the kindness of strangers. No, wait...actually, the total opposite of that. I just moved in with a friend. My pal Joanne lives in a superb apartment on the Esplanade, so I'm currently living the dream in a posh downtown condo. All I need now is a scraggly beard and a taste for shitty indie music and I'll truly be a Toronto stereotype!

With the St. Lawrence Market, a Rainbow Cinema AND a Wendy's just steps from my door, the sky is really the limit here on the 'Nade, as we locals call it. Instead of sneaking popcorn or a soda into the theatre, I could up the challenge and try to sneak in a Baconator or a fresh halibut. If anyone gets suspicious about the fish smell, I'll start blushing and start yelling, "I can't help it!" Would I really subject myself to public embarrassment just to sneak an unmanageably large piece of food into a theatre? Yes. Yes I could.


Of course, saying goodbye to the old place was unfortunate, since I enjoyed living there with my singing, guitar-playing, goth club-visiting, video-gaming, acting, cat-owning pack of roommates. It was a nice townhouse and quite a bargain at just $450 a month. The low price might've been because the townhouse, technically, was right behind a homeless shelter, so you had no shortage of odd-looking characters around the neighbourhood at all hours. They never bothered me, though, so hey, no skin off my back. Hey, if Joanne's place hadn't worked out, I might've just moved my stuff right into the shelter. Could I have fit all my belongings into one bandana and carried them around on a stick? Hard to say. I have a lot of stuff. It'd have to be a strong stick.


Then again, I shouldn't speak ill of the homeless. The other day I was heading into the Eaton Centre when a homeless dude asked me for change. You might wonder what was so odd about this everyday occurrence in the big city, and I'll tell you --- the guy was good-looking. So good-looking, in fact, that my hetero radar (normally attuned to just really overtly handsome cases like Jon Hamm or Brad Pitt) even took notice of it. His clothes had the shabby tint of gear that'd been worn for the last week straight, but from the neck up, he looked more suited to be working at the Eaton Centre's Gap than to be asking for a spare nickel.

Some recent study came out stating that attractive people are more apt to be offered jobs than unattractive people, so you wonder what this guy's issue was. Some kind of reverse Dorian Gray thing? A drinking problem? (I know, a homeless guy with a drinking problem, pretty far-fetched.) Perhaps he was like Moe Syzslak and was hideous until a wall fell on his face and plastic surgery fixed him up.

Anyway, I didn't give him a nickel. I ain't handsome, so I need all the money I can get.


The housing search was very abbreviated for this move, since not only was Joanne offering her place to me, but my ex-roommates (a jazz guitarist and opera singer, respectively, which led to some interesting jam sessions) also offered their couch. So really, there wasn't much pressure in the search other than a simple desire to avoid freeloading off my friends.

This turned out to be a good thing since finding affordable short-term housing in Toronto for just a specific month is a pain in the ass. It's even tougher when that month is September and you have to deal with housing being snapped up by students, or short-term rentals snapped up by tourists in town for the film festival. Booking appointments was a chore in and of itself, since (surprise) most renters aren't keen on just giving up a place for a sole month.

Only three viewings were arranged. Firstly, I found myself in what can only be described as a hovel up near Dundas and Pape. Spirits fell just approaching this shack, and they sunk even lower when the sketchbox landlord showed me through the dingy, poorly-lit, vaguely grimy basement apartment. I shrewdly kept my back to the wall at all times lest the landlord try to choke me out with an ether-soaked rag. This used needle of an apartment could've been mine for the month at the low, low price of $150 a week. No word on if I'd have to pay extra for utilities or if the landlord would've given me a hometown discount on the meth that he surely cooked.

Next up was actually a nice place up by St. Clair and Oakwood that I might've considered had it not been off of St. Clair, arguably the worst street in Toronto. Even with this streetcar project now mostly finished, the street is still far too narrow and an absolute bother to drive at any time of day. For me to put up with this constant traffic, the place would've had to be near-perfect, and it just wasn't. It also didn't help that the leaser was going on about how his roommate was a really anal cook that threw hissy-fits whenever someone took too much time in the kitchen. I doubt that my bachelor diet of sandwiches and rice would've caused too much of a stir, but still, who needs to live with someone like that?

The last place was a boarding house contained entirely within one apartment unit, which I found odd. Turned out this was because the apartment's owner didn't want the building landlady (who lived upstairs) to realize that her tenant was making money on the side by leasing her extra rooms out to other people. So on one hand, moving in here would've made me an outlaw. On the other, this manifested itself in being asked to literally tiptoe into the building and not slam doors too loudly so as to arouse suspicion upstairs. This isn't quite the romantic notion of an outlaw that I was expecting. Clyde Barrow never had to watch out for slamming doors. He just had to worry about being shot 600 times in a 30-second span.


It speaks volumes about my feelings towards the Toronto Raptors that, if I had a pick of any Raptors jersey to own, I'd go with a Hakeem Olajuwon throwback. Remember when Hakeem played for the Raps in his last NBA season? It sounds so outlandish, like the concept of Michael Jordan as a Wizard or Emmitt Smith as a Cardinal, yet those things happened too. There's no downside to a Hakeem Raptors jersey --- one, you're supporting the hometown team, and two, you're also paying tribute to one of the all-time NBA greats. There aren't many good Raptor jersey options, frankly, given how their superstars have a nasty habit of napalming bridges on their way out of town.


The CNE. Hadn't officially been since I was a little kid, and maybe not even then. I have vague memories of attending a big fair as a toddler, but that might've been London's own Western Fair, another childhood staple. (Though both were nothing compared to the old Dorchester Fair, which still to this day produced the best french fries I've ever eaten in my life. They just came from a generic chip wagon, but man, those Dorchesterans must've used some magic formula of salt and grease.) I've tromped through the CNE grounds a few times over the last few years on my way into BMO Field for soccer games, since obviously Major League Soccer has so little sway that they couldn't avoid scheduling a game or two during a massive carnival, but I'd never really stopped and enjoyed the CNE properly.

Until last week, that is. The roommate and some extended friends headed out to enjoy the Ex since, after all, what's better after a long day of moving than walking around a fair for three hours? The blister currently peeling off between my baby and fourth toe notwithstanding, it was a fine time. A fine $50 time since man alive, those games really add up, but still.

Fortunately I got some return on my $50. My prowess at tossing a ball into a basket won my roommate a stuffed green elephant holding....some damn thing, it's a yellow guitar case or bottle or foam middle finger, I dunno. I also took home a Maggie Simpson doll for myself thanks to that laughable game known as the "guess your age/weight" challenge. They should just call it "Give Mark A Prize." Thanks to my shaved head and general man-child appearance, my age is a tough nut to crack. Playing this game in Las Vegas years ago at age 14, the guy thought I was 23. (In hindsight, I should've used this confusion to play some poker in the casinos.) So needless to say, this guy at the Ex didn't have a hope. He tried to draw it out by writing his guess down and then asking the first digit of my age. When I said it was '2,' he just turned in disgust and waved me over to the prize rack without even revealing his (surely, way off) guess. The Maggie doll was mine, all mine!


Poor Mr. Ho. I'm sure he and his family moved to Toronto years ago with dreams of success in the big city, and sure enough, here he is with an apparently thriving business near the corner of Wellesley and Jarvis. The problem, however, is that Mr. Ho may not have had the best grasp of North American slang, since otherwise he wouldn't have named his establishment HO TEAM in giant letters across the storefront. Or, maybe he did --- hell, it sure got me talking about it here, didn't it? I don't even know what HO TEAM sells, produces or does. I prefer the mystery. It would be kind of great if it actually was a brothel, under the logic of 'hiding in plain sight.'


A Yahoo Sports hockey blog has been running a 'Mount Puckmore' series for the last month inviting various hockey bloggers to define the top four icons (to fill a Mt. Rushmore) for their respective teams. Naturally, the greatest franchise in hockey history was saved for last, though I'm not crazy about their selections.

When you have as many legendary figures as the Maple Leafs, it's hard to whittle the candidates down to just four. It's not just players, either --- the scope can be widened to coaches, front office types, owners, even broadcasters. Adding to the problem is deciding if you should just pick a blanket top four, or to try and represent every 'era' of a team.

The guys from Pension Plan Puppets (linked on my blogroll) had the task of filling the Leafs' quartet out, and they did an okay job. Their choices were Conn Smythe, Mats Sundin, Borje Salming and Ted Kennedy, which is a pretty fair summation of Toronto hockey history. But I dunno, are these really the four names that leap to mind when you think of the Maple Leafs?

Here's my foursome: Smythe, Kennedy, George Armstrong and Dave Keon. If you take the 'all players' route, when replace Smythe with Sundin. The PPP guys cited Salming because he was both a great Leaf and the first great European star to break into the NHL, but while this might earn him a spot in Sweden's Mount Puckmore*, I just think there were a few more notable names in Leafs history. Armstrong and Keon's eight combined Cups were a big tie-breaker. Sure, it may be unfair to penalize Salming for not being able to win a Stanley Cup during the godawful Harold Ballard ownership era, but these are the tough choices you need to make in a Mount Puckmore.

* = Salming, Sundin, Nick Lidstrom, Peter Forsberg

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