In 1987, while living in Chicago, I fell in love with Toronto. The first time I visited, my plan was to spend a few days there and then move on to Montreal, but I never made it to Montreal because I liked Toronto so much that I stayed there. Reaching Toronto was an adventure, considering that en route there I spent a night on a bench outside a Windsor, Ont., bus station. I don’t wish to revisit the matter of the bus station, and in any case I have already documented that particular experience, along with all the reasons I loved Toronto so. I can’t recall ever having a bad word to say about a Canadian, although I was never a fan of Lorne Greene and can take or leave Anne Murray. But there were two women in Toronto who make me rethink things.
On that first trip I went to the Art Gallery of Ontario. It’s a beautiful museum with an expansive room of Henry Moore sculptures and an important collection of paintings by the Group of Seven, whose work I loved, especially that of Lawren Harris.
On my second Toronto vacation, a year later, I returned to the museum and bought a membership. On my third visit I returned to the museum and went into the members’ lounge for an afternoon drink. It was a large, quiet space, decorated in white and beige.
At a table 20 feet away sat two women. Although guessing a woman’s age is a fraught endeavor, I would make these two at 55 or so. They glanced at me. They leaned in and whispered to each other. If I were to say they whispered conspiratorially it might mark me as paranoid, but that is how they appeared to be whispering. They glanced again at me between whispers.
Any suspicions of paranoia on my part were erased when the women in question waved a waiter to their table. When he arrived there, they began whispering in a conspiratorial fashion to him as well. The waiter looked in my direction, nodded to the women, and walked my way.
“Good afternoon, sir.”
“This is the members’ lounge. Are you a member of the gallery?”
“Yes.” I produced my member’s card and offered it for inspection.
“Thank you, sir.” He walked away, ignoring the women, who glared at me.
I stuck my tongue out at them, quickly and just a little.