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March 29, 2010

  • Strangers on a GO Train
  • Eleven forty-one and I make my way onto the train and slump onto a seat. I’m in a haze caused by many, many Steam Whistle beers.

    A few rows ahead I notice a tall, pretty brunette wearing a grey pea coat, jeans and some really cute shoes. We catch each other’s eye. Smile. I go back to looking out the window, figuring I’ll sleep it off between here and Bronte.

    Eleven forty-three and the train lunges out of Toronto Union station. There are four or so men, middle aged, drunk and voluble on in the pod of seats on the other side of the aisle from the brunette. They’re getting louder and racier the more they talk. Eventually, the brunette gets up and says to me “I think I’ll move down.”

    I gesture to the empty seat opposite me.

    She sits down. Her light brown hair covers her left eye. She has a smile so wide her gums show. She has a faraway look to her.

    “You have a good night?” I ask, a little surprised at my extroversion.

    “Pretty good. I had a lot to drink.”

    “Me too.” I reply.

    She asks, “Where were you?”

    “A charity fundraising party. You?”

    “Someone I know was showing his art.”

    “At a gallery or an installation?”

    “No it wasn’t like that. He was an art professor—I studied art.”

    “So what do you do now?”

    “I work for the city doing art restoration projects.”

    “Are you an artist?”

    “I used to be one.”

    “Used to be?”

    “It’s complicated. I decided I had done a lot of work but a lot of it wasn’t done and it wasn’t really organized. I decided not to do any more art until I went through my existing work and organized it.”

    “How long ago was this?”

    “Eighteen months. What do you do?”

    I shrug. “I work in public relations for an NGO. I’m a writer.”

    The rowdies at the other end of the car make a loud joke about anal sex. She rolls her eyes at their behavior and laughs—a breathy, lilting laugh.

    “What sort of art did you used to do?” I ask.

    “Printing. Painting. Performance art.”

    “Did you enjoy it?”


    “Will you go back?”

    “I don’t know. I shocked my professor and his friends when I told them. I have a lot to do. I have pizza boxes full of origami.”


    “Yeah, I did an installation. I made origami birds. I made thousands of them. They filled up my place but we figured out that they fit into pizza delivery boxes so I stored them in that.”

    “That must have made your roommate or boyfriend mad.”

    “No I got my roommate to help. She made hundreds of birds. She got really good at it. And then I moved up to Ottawa for a while and had to take them with me and that’s how I came up with the pizza boxes.”

    “What did you do with all these origami birds?”

    “They’ve been everywhere. They were at an installation in Ottawa. In Victoria. A couple of other places. I want to get them to a museum in Japan, but there’s a lot of them—I don’t think I can get someone to take them and they’re too expensive to ship. I thought of flying there with with them myself.”

    There’s more raucous laughter from the middle-aged men. We laugh. She asks, “What do you write?”

    “All sorts of things. Magazine articles. Screenplays—nothing produced but I’ve pitched a couple.”

    “What do you write about?”

    “ I write…I guess I write about people and how they’re affected by our culture. I write about nerds, I guess.”

    “What’s your favourite book?”

    Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell and A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving”.

    “I’ve read both. I’ve read everything by Irving.”

    “What do you like?”

    She names a children’s author I hadn’t heard of before. “But I don’t read fiction any more.” She brushed the hair that had flopped over her left eye.  “It’s one of the things I gave up when I stopped doing art. I read cookbooks, science books.” She lists an instructional book I had dimly heard of.

    “Biographies?” I ask

    “I can’t get into those.”

    The train pulls into Port Credit. “I think this is your stop,” she called to the rowdy middle aged men. They left the carriage.

    The train ambles on.

    “Do you think you’ll ever go back to your art?”

    “Oh yeah. I just want to put everything into order so if I were to die…I want people to understand how it all fits together, because it seems random now.”

    “How long will that take?”

    “Probably another six months.” She grins.

    “And how do you enjoy art restoration?”

    “Oh it’s okay. I think the goal of an art restorer should be to preserve everything because when it’s restored, it becomes a totally different piece. I have books about the Sistene Chapel before it was restored and they talk about as though that’s how it is, all dark. And then it was restored and now you have books talking about it in a totally different way because it is different. So I want to keep as many flaws in it as possible—to remind people what it was originally like.”

    The train pulled into Bronte. “This is my stop,” I say.

    “Mine too.”

    We got up and made our way to the door. “It was really nice talking to you.”  She asks me for my name. I tell her. She tells me hers.

    We walk silently through the tunnel to the station entrance. She says goodbye and strolls over to a waiting white Toyota. I walk to the Taxi rank to wait for a cab.

    Saturday night was now Sunday morning.

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

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