I have spent 17 years as a newspaper columnist in Toronto and five more years on the job in Montreal. I merely note that tilting at windmills, taking notes and making enemies of idiots has not been my only calling.
Prior to the papers, I spent a dozen years as a manager and a radio producer at the CBC, and for 10 years before that I worked at various jobs — the most important one, as a community developer — in my hometown of Fort William. All in, I have been earning a living for nearly 50 years.
Time now to step aside.
Because I do not want to be one of those guys who occupies his perch until he starts to drool, also because — and you know this if you are of a certain age — when I look at the long list of things to do and the handful of sand left in the hourglass . . .
It is a fearful business, columny.
The work is not so very hard, but it is fraught, and I have lived for a long time in terror of getting a name wrong, or pooching a fact. The agony of an error lasts a lifetime. The rest of it requires no courage at all.
I simply wandered around town, asking questions, making notes and then writing stories which had a beginning, a middle, an end and a point of view — stories which I hope looked and sounded like the people of the city.
I think of Al Gosling, the octogenarian who was evicted from his bachelor apartment in community housing for petty and pointless reasons — and who died as a result. I weep to think that the bureaucrat who kicked him to the curb is still working; hell, she was promoted.
But I am grateful to have met Justice Patrick LeSage, the wise, witty and elegant man who conducted the inquiry into Al’s death.
I think of the artist Janos Buda, who died in his apartment and was not discovered until six months later; what kind of community is it in which you can die and not be missed, and not be found, until you are a husk?
Were it not for a bit of luck, thousands of Buda’s drawings and sketches of life in the city would have been thrown in the trash. I am forever grateful to the good people of the Scarborough Arts Council for saving them.
An aside: a relative of Janos was located in the U.S.A. He came here to take care of the estate, and he met a lovely woman and they married, and he stayed.
I remember Dirty George, who lived in third-world conditions in community housing. Dirty George, because hygiene was his litmus test: if you could stand to be near him, you could be his friend.
He had many friends.
I think of the lovely woman who called years ago to say she’d been bitten by bedbugs and had had an allergic reaction; I paid her a visit and found so many bedbug stories that I could not write them all.
It’s high time we poured more money into programs to help those whose blood is being sucked because the problem has not gone away.
And then there is Fred Dunn and his Ode to Joy, which is what he called the 85-lb. log he carried on his shoulders when he jogged. I cannot think of Fred without remembering the street nurse, Barb Craig, from whose sneaker Fred once said he would drink champagne.
I remember Zlatni Struni, the Rolling Stones of Bulgaria. I remember Robert who, when his power was cut off at West Lodge, he snaked a string of Xmas lights from the hallway into his apartment and plugged them in so that he could read by the light of the red and green bulbs. I still see him sometimes on the corner.
I think of Wabs Whitebird, the proprietor of Fluffy Records, Cliff Martin and the tenants of 200 Wellesley, and Walter Cavalieri, Holly Kramer, Peter Leslie and all the stalwarts of harm reduction.
I smile at the memory of Cora Graziano, who once made a rhubarb-strawberry pie for the Dalai Lama.
Leo Agwu introduced me to the particular joys of joloff rice. I was there when he brought his bride Joy to Toronto from Nigeria, just as I was there when their firstborn was christened.
I remember my pals in the cannabis community.
I am indebted to this city’s legal aid workers, who fight the endless good fight. And then there is Fr. Hernan Astudillo, my saint and a city hero; no one has made so many miracles with nothing more than beans and rice.
And I am indebted to you if you ever, at any time, trusted me to tell your story, or if you sent a kind note of encouragement, or even a sharp word.
From now on I will poke around town on my own dime, taking espresso on St. Clair, apple cake at the Mystic Muffin and pho all over.
I will do these things in memory of my pal Carmin Priolo, the flaneur; it was our shared belief that Toronto is a hard place to like, just as it is an easy place to love.
See you on the corner.
Joe Fiorito’s new email address: [email protected]
Joe Fiorito’s new email address: [email protected]
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