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close encounters

There must have been something friendly in my face today; I kept making surprising new friends. First, I went to see John, a friend from the Y who now does my taxes, and what a kind and sensible man he is. I gave him a lecture about how he’s working too hard and letting his fitness slide and he promised to come back to the Y, and he gave me a lecture about delving into my RRSP’s and having to pay unnecessary taxes, and I promised I would never do that again. With all of that promising done, I went out and immediately spent my small tax rebate at the kitchen store across the street, loading myself down with things I need: a chopping board, a timer, a drain plug, a wok and, most excitingly, a space age salad spinner. I sure know how to enjoy tax time.

Hauling my bags of loot, I went to the Eglinton subway, where a woman standing nearby said, “Don’t I know you? Your face is familiar.” I have that kind of face; people often say that to me. But then she said, “Are you in the theatre?” We began to talk – she’s a designer from Victoria, and of course, we have many friends in common. We jabbered non-stop until separating at College, where she was going west, this woman I’d only met fifteen minutes before, and I east. But we will meet again, no doubt about it.
I was standing on College waiting for the streetcar, watching a pale, grubby young girl lying on the sidewalk near the curb, smoking the stub of a cigarette and poking haplessly at the suitcase on wheels she had with her. The man next to me, who was Native Canadian, turned to me with tears in his eyes and said, “Breaks your heart, doesn’t it?” We talked about homeless kids, and he went up to her and said, “What are you doing, darling?”
She was trying to get her case open, she said, to get out her begging cup, but it was stuck. He tried to help and so did I, but yes, it was stuck. “I’m pregnant,” she said, dragging on her cigarette with her filthy hands, and I noticed her little belly, “all my I.D. was stolen a few days ago and they won’t let you into the shelters with no I.D.” We both suggested places she should go. “You have to have I.D. to get in,” she said. “It costs $35 for new I.D.”
As my streetcar came, I gave her $20 and then, my heavy bags flapping, I ran back to give her another $20 – $40, half of what I’d spent on kitchenware. She walked off, dragging her small broken suitcase behind her. I don’t think the money will go on drugs, but if not on new I.D., I hope on a hot meal. She was 19, from Niagara Falls, her parents had thrown her out when she told them she was pregnant. It’s true what my new friend said – it does break your heart. I kept thinking of how little it takes to begin a downward spiral. Thinking of that baby, and my own blessed daughter, so very not homeless.
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My daughter, in fact, is living every girl’s dream right now – she has all five members of her favourite rock band living with her. She knows the band the Stanfields from her years at university in Nova Scotia – the lead singer is the brother of a St. FX friend – and so whenever they come to Toronto, they all stay with Anna. That’s five large hairy men in a small apartment. She says they’re the best house-guests ever, and the drummer makes a great strawberry shortcake.
On Tuesday night they were playing at the Horseshoe Tavern, so I went to join her there and to hear them for the first time – even though they weren’t on till 10.30, well toward bedtime for me. The Horseshoe is a reassuring place – I’ve been going there since 1969, maybe, and it’s exactly the same charming beer-soaked dive now as it was then.
The band was fantastic but deafening. I’d resolved not to embarrass Anna but could not help chewing up bits of Kleenex to stick in my ears, in the absence of actual earplugs. Only then could I enjoy the music, tight pounding rock with a Celtic undertone, which I could actually hear.
Tomorrow, fresh excitement – I’ll chop veggies on my new chopping board, cook them in my new wok, spin those lettuce leaves way to hell and gone. Hope my young friend has new I.D. and has got her suitcase open and her begging cup out.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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