Monday, April 30, 2012

Down and out in Ontario

Maybe I like going to Canada because it's the one country in the world where it's OK to feel snobbish about being an American. Anywhere else one is reminded of the millennia of art and tradition that have preceded and led up to the grand cultural accomplishments of modern Belgium, or Korea, or Peru. That doesn't happen in Canada. Well, perhaps in Montreal, but I was leaving it for Ontario purposefully and not just because I got a ride there.

I wanted to be somewhere bigger, noisier, more chokingly polluted and comfortable with its own squalor. That pretty much just meant Toronto, unless I headed back south of the border. Being in a city large enough to assure anonymity is a comfort to me. I like walking the pavements, feeling concrete under my shoes, inhaling new odors with each square of the sidewalk. The greatest draw for me, in any city, is the people watching. Walt Whitman had it right in his poem, To a Stranger:

Passing stranger! you do not know how longingly I look upon you,
 You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking, (it comes to me as of a dream,)
I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you,
[...] I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you when I sit alone or wake at night alone,
I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.

I love riding public transportation, and sitting close enough to other people in cafes to smell what they've ordered, and imagining what their arms, faces, and jackets would feel like. When our eyes meet I do my best to break into them and make myself into that object which they will recall and wonder when they "sit alone or wake at night alone." In return, I'm just as conscious of how I dress, how I walk, how my wrists show while I drink from that cup of tea and where I must go to be noticed. I am, in this way, a public figure, though one deluded and ignorant of his own obscurity.

Four days I wandered the city, lingering in Kensington market, walking the haunts of the graffiti artists, riding the metro, finding those Asian restaurants Asians actually go to, and getting baked out of my mind at a pot bar and wandering the internal passageways of the underground like digestion navigating the gut. I thought of all the cities I had been to in the past year. Seattle, Vancouver, Portland, Chicago, Boston, the other Portland, Montreal, Toronto. They blended in my mind, the sidewalks all connected. It was disorienting, and disheartening.

I was experiencing the traveler's sickness. Not quite homesickness, more like a lack of will and purpose. The great question of "What am I doing here?" Some people I know experience this before they even leave. Why go drink tea in China when you could drink tea at home? Usually I would have answered, "Because it is not home." But the answer had reversed on me. "Because it is home." I was tired of traveling. Home was calling, which was no individual place, but having gone down to a few hundred dollars and wanting a roof, a radiator, a bed that stayed put, that pretty much meant heading back to the US. Being poor is fine, but it's much harder to be poor in a country that's not yours, however much it might resemble it.

 I searched Craigslist for the next available ride to anywhere in the US. There was a ride to Buffalo offered and I took it. So, Buffalo would be home.