I love my neighbourhood. It’s well-established, with incredibly wise trees and eclectic house designs. I say hi to the people I meet; I mostly know them by their dogs.
There’s the guy who had one well-behaved red long-haired dog (he told me it was a Retriever and I was confused, being more familiar with short-haired Labs, but we’re talking Golden here) pre-pandemic, then decided to add another. The other? He’s a puller. It’s been two years, as you know, and that poor guy is now out-of-breath and dishevelled by “the other”, who seems incapable of mastering leash etiquette.
It’s always a good day when I see Baxter the Boston Terrier. He reminds me so much of my adopted (from my daughter) Boston Terrier Boris, gone several years now. I pet Baxter, inquire about his health (which is up and down, they’re finicky little ones) and am comforted by his aloof temperament, which also matches Boris’s.
Then there’s Archie, the peppy wee white Scottish Terrier across the road, who is the complete opposite in size and temperament to my daughter’s dog, a doodle, of the same name.
There are people without dogs, of course, and I chat with some of them too. Walking to fitness class one recent morning, I finally discovered where this family I’ve been crossing paths with for a long time, originate from. They emerged from the grand entrance of the stately brown brick house on the corner. The mother, well-dressed and beautiful, has long dark hair which flows gracefully as she saunters along with her three children, presumably heading to the elementary school up the street. We nodded, said hi. For the last couple of years, she and I have had to choose our routes carefully as there’s been major watermain work in the neighbourhood. Some days, the sidewalks and streets were being peeled up in front of our feet.
Kev, a retired media (radio) guy who I know through my husband B, lives near this family. He’d just started up a car for his wife for work that day. I say “a car” because they never had children, so they spend their money on vehicles; there were four parked in the laneway that day. He threw his hands in the air, said, “I don’t know, but the battery died on Shelley’s hybrid and I can’t get into it. I’ve got the shop coming. Thank goodness we have a gasser that started right up.”
“I had a Mercedes that would lock up like Fort Knox when the battery died,” I told him. “Had to keep it on a trickle charger.”
I carried on, picking my way through the muddy construction zone. And I could see Dan up there, coming from his morning male confab at Tim Hortons, walking along in his black toque, black winter coat. (I was wearing a black toque, black winter coat. Neighbourhood uniform?) I wondered what he’d have to say.
I’ve been running into Dan a lot lately. The first time? He was like, “Oh, so-and-so, you know, that big guy? He’s still there at Tims. You should go say hi.”
I didn’t know “so-and-so” and I’d already told Dan I was heading to class at the Jewish Centre. The next time? When we were done talking, he squeezed my arm, said, “Why don’t you come to my place for coffee?” Wink, nudge.
A little backstory. Dan is also a retired media (newspaper) guy I know from B. Because the big venue B was swooping in from the US to run 20-plus years ago was a controversial project for the city, some people in the media were hellbent on finding fault with it. B and Dan had numerous “discussions” and Dan didn’t always paint B’s building in the best light. The building became a success and Dan got busy with other topics; the animosity fell away.
So much so that when B and I made the risky decision to go out to a pub in the hood on Friday, March 13, 2020, when Covid was rapidly shutting the world down, we sat at the bar with Dan and his girlfriend, chatting away like old friends.
It’s a shame-inducing memory for a couple of reasons. One: Covid. B had been dealing with shut-down related issues at work for the previous couple of days. Recall that Wednesday night? Sure, there was the shocking suspension of travel between the US and Europe for 30 days, but I found it more shocking that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson had IT. Then? The NBA shut down. The NBA!
B came home that Friday, we looked at each other, shrugged. I said, “Well, there’s no cases in London.” B said, “Then let’s go out for dins.”
By Monday, when it felt like the entire planet was closed, I did feel unnecessarily exposed for having sat in that crowded bar for a couple of hours.
Reason two: Gossip. It’s so fun, isn’t it? But, it’s also wrong! (Although B shrugs, says he knows people probably talk about him, what can he do about it, it doesn’t bother him. He’s pretty darn comfortable in his skin. I don’t like to think what people say about me behind my back. Say it to my face. And make it not hurt.) We chatted away with Dan and his girlfriend, smushed in there at the bar. A couple that we knew in the hood had recently split. Dan had the goods.
“She switched teams,” he told us.
Such salacious news! It felt outrageous, but why? Did it even matter? Did we think this particular person just wouldn’t be gay, or bisexual? Why do we often have these preconceived notions about others? Why do we care? (When I thought longer on it I was somewhat relieved as this woman had reached out to B for lunches, seeking work advice, so perhaps I needn’t worry she was seeking more than work advice?)
But, hopefully you can cut us a little slack, because B and I are from a generation that did not discuss sexual orientation while grappling with the act of sex itself. And a topic like gender fluidity? Back in the day? Never heard of it. Luckily, we have younger people in our midst who educate us on all of this. A few years ago, when B’s kid said one of their roommates was non-binary? We were like, say what? There was some shy laughter. The explanation was: male, female, they don’t identify. Oh. And my kids say, well, I’m paraphrasing here, but if a person is happy, is not hurting anyone, then straight, gay, bi, male, female? Who cares? Welcome to the 21st century huh?
As we sat at the bar, eating, sipping, chatting, on that pandemic eve, the woman in question walked in with her new partner and we moved on to other topics.
Back to meeting Dan on the sidewalk at the entrance to the Jewish Centre, we chatted amicably for a bit, then he squeezed my arm, again, and this time said, “When are you and I going out for dinner?” Wink, nudge.
He must have read shock on my face because he followed that up with, “Well, you can bring your husband along.”
I shook my head, went to class. A couple of days later, when B got home from work, I said, “Oh that buddy of yours.” I was starting to dread running into Dan again. Perhaps I’d have to leave the house earlier? Reduce the chances? Or drive to class? I told B about the dinner invite. There was some guilt. Had I been behaving in a way that made Dan think I was available?
B said, “Does he even know I’m your husband? Maybe he forgot?”
Hmmm. I thought about that. I mean, I know perfectly well who I am, but I’ve run into other people and either not been able to place them . . . or! This has happened a couple times. Maybe for you too? They’ve got a doppelgänger! You think they’re someone else that you know, you ask dumb questions that out you. Tres embarrassing.
“But he has a girlfriend, doesn’t he?”
“She was from Toronto,” B said. “And that was over two years ago.”
I poured wine for dinner. And B said, “You know. You should be flattered. He goes for younger, really beautiful women.”
And that was when I remembered. Oh yeah! B and I have a mature relationship. We’ve talked about this. We’ve said to each other, hey, you get bored, you’re looking for something different, just say so. No need to cheat.
I sat down at the island to eat feeling pretty darn good about the skin I’m in. And the hood I’m in.
Website photo: A recent sunrise in the hood, no filter.