It’s a beautiful day, sunny and temperate, and I have things to do. I rest the side of my head against the frame of the streetcar window, and breathe in the City's summer scent of piss and grit. The vignettes I pass, or sit near to, feeling invulnerable and invisible in my darkest shades: Two homeless guys sleeping, each on one side of a chain link fence, with the backs of their heads to the other’s heels in an urban Ying-Yang; a puffy and tired-looking woman, lurching up the rear door steps and sighing her way in to her seat, clutching a recipe book titled “Comfort Food”, her shiny hand prints marring the satin-finish dust jacket; the brick side of a building with the faded old painted business name like a whisper and a fresh graffiti scrawl like a shout.
I’m returning from the stamp shop, an office in a building few ever see hidden between gaudy jewellery shops and a souvenir store on Yonge Street, where I was in another world for a few minutes, looking at teetering piles of books and papers and chatting amiably with old guys who were as gray and translucent skinned as the cello envelopes the stamps were filed in, blinking in the light from the dusty fluorescent tubes. They sort and fondle stamps by the hundreds, all day, loving the imprinted and perforated paper and the hunt for great value like a writer loves the feel of an empty page on the side of the hand and goes through the words he knows looking for the perfect phrase. The contents of a denim-printed cardboard cassette case, my husband’s childhood collection last added to in 1967, have value only as value an average person's fascination their small square curious images – the ephemeral art of commerce and voyage, now destined now to be art supplies. Do children these days even know that once upon a time, stamps had to be licked? I think I'll taste a few myself, to see if tasting the paper through the gummy sweetness is the same as I'm remembering.
I stop off at a paint shop on the way home, to buy a tin of stripper, and am relieved to be offered the one that works best first, instead of the inferior yet only slightly eco-friendlier one I’d have to refuse. I ask about, and learn, that the resident cat has died since I was there last; and I share a story about Gray from when we first met him. I'll miss that cat, he was part of my world. There's no desire to linger any longer, I want to get home and deal with the business of reclaiming what's under the paint on our wooden coffee table, and to mourn the loss of old "Mr. Mean Face" a little while I try not to breathe the fumes - though they're a good excuse to tear up a little if I want to. There’s a point when a shabby paint job on a coffee table with "good bones" loses its charm, and we reached it this past weekend. There's a point where the city, and the people and the things in it even in their tired ugliness balance, teetering and threatening to tip, between a decrepit allure and just plain sadness, and I want to get on with it, because it can still be a beautiful day. I can make it so again, just after I'm done thinking about that old cat.