My Week 41: When Pigeons Attack, The Pan Am Opening Ceremonies

Wednesday: I worry about being attacked by a pigeon

It’s summer in Toronto right now and that means only one thing. Well actually, it means more than one thing. For example, it means that the streets in the downtown core smell heavily of urine, garbage, marijuana. Why? you ask. Because there are more people sleeping out in the open air ie: “the middle of the sidewalk” when the weather is warm than there are in the winter, and there aren’t a lot of bathrooms on the sidewalk, so the sidewalk BECOMES the bathroom. Also, I’m surrounded by high rises; I know how many dumpsters the people in my own building are capable of filling, so extrapolate that to like 20, 000 other buildings full of hot, stinky garbage. As for the marijuana, there are just a LOT of people in T.O. who have no problem whatsoever walking down the street openly smoking pot. But the most important thing about the change in weather is that summer is Patio Season. Yes, Torontonians ADORE patios, and will eat or drink just about anything if it’s served on a patio. Maybe it’s because they spend so much time encased in concrete, but the second the temperature hits anything above 10 degrees, people are dining al fresco, even if they have to wear parkas and sit under heat lamps. Every restaurant downtown, regardless of the size of their frontage, has at least one table out front, even if it blocks the sidewalk. Personally, I love relaxing on a nice patio with a cold glass of white wine in hand (even if said glass costs more than the actual bottle I can buy at the liquor store—Toronto prices are a rip-off), but there are some dangers to the patio life that need to be taken into consideration. First, you are an open target for panhandlers; to them, it must seem like shooting fish in a barrel. I’ve also heard stories of street people taking sips out of glasses or stealing fries off plates. But it’s a chance we’re all willing to take for the luxury of sitting outside. But the biggest hazard to patio season is the wildlife, which brings me (finally) to the point of this story. Last week, I went out with a group of colleagues after work for a drink. Patios are so popular right now that, when there’s no room on one, you can get put on a waiting list and the hostess will give you a disc that flashes and buzzes when there’s seating available. So after waiting for about 15 minutes, we made our way out to the patio at Jack Astor’s. It’s a great spot, high up and overlooking all the madness of Dundas Square, with misters that spray the air above you if things get too hot (I just realized that makes it sound a little like a gay bar—let me clarify that “misters” are like showerheads, not actual men. I was actually in a gay bar yesterday afternoon and instead of spraying us with cooling water, the waiter yelled at my friend for putting her feet up on the outdoor patio chair. When I laughed and said, “Who are you, our mother?”, he replied, “Well, SOMEONE has to parent you, sweetheart!” Too awesome for words, really).

Anyway, things were going really well, and I was totally relaxing into my drink, when I realized that there was a pigeon wandering around near our table. Pigeons are like the panhandlers of the bird world—they have no problem at all approaching you and trying to scam you out of your food or giving you pamphlets about the impending apocalypse. I was doing my best to ignore the pigeon, who was getting closer all the time, but then I laughed at someone’s joke, turned my head, and for a horrifying split second, we made eye contact. Even though I looked away really quickly, the pigeon took this as an obvious invitation to join us, and began sidling over towards my chair. I tried to pretend it wasn’t there, but the effort of keeping one eye on the pigeon and participating in the conversation was making me more and more distracted and a little afraid. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE birds. I get super excited every time I see an owl on a hydro line, and Ken and I will race from window to window to watch a humming bird buzzing around our flower garden. But the pigeons in Toronto are another matter altogether. They have no fear of humans whatsoever, and they have these malevolent, beady little eyes that follow your every movement. So there I was, minding my own business and being stalked by a pigeon. Then someone asked me a question; I took my eyes off it for a second, and suddenly I couldn’t see it anymore. Then I felt something brush my leg, and when I looked under the table, the pigeon was NEXT TO MY FOOT. I moved my foot in a panic which made the pigeon fly up and start hitting my leg with its wings and talons. I screamed and thrashed at it—which made everyone at the table look at me like I was some kind of lunatic, but then I said, “Pigeon!” and they all smiled and nodded knowingly. So now, even though I love patio season, I’m also super-paranoid about pigeon attacks, and with good reason. In fact, I’m a little suspicious of all birds in Toronto right now—on Wednesday, I was out with a friend when a sparrow landed on the patio next to me. Instinctively, I told it to f—off and it flew away. You never know—it could have been the advance scout for a party of attack pigeons. I’m not taking any chances.

Friday: I try to make sense of the Pan Am Opening Ceremonies

On Friday night, Ken and I were all excited about watching the opening ceremonies of the Pan Am games. It’s a huge moment for Canadian culture and sports, and everyone was talking about how amazing it was going to be. Amazing yes, but also very random and confusing. I knew it was going to be a weird night when the flag was carried in by Mounties, and the pianist, who was described as “adlibbing” his accompaniment was wearing a bathrobe and slippers. I know that Canadians love “Casual Friday”, but really? Then the athletes started to come in. It made sense for a minute, then after Ecuador, the United States team entered. I have a pretty good grasp of the order of letters in the alphabet, and Ken and I were initially very confused, until we realized that, while the announcers were calling the team names in English, they were in FRENCH alphabetical order. I can only imagine how bewildered the athletes were at this, since out of 41 participating countries, Canada (and maybe Haiti—were they even there?) is the only country where French is an official language. I can just see the Americans shaking their heads and saying, “Don’t even ask. It’s Canada, remember? They don’t like guns and let gay people get married—their alphabet is probably f*cked up too.” Then the Canadian team came in—I was really proud, but also a little curious about their uniforms, because the pants looked like they’d been designed by MC Hammer. But it was great and patriotic, and the athletes, when they weren’t texting, tweeting, and taking selfies, seemed really happy to be there. But if I thought things had been a little random up to now, just wait. It was time for the Cirque du Soleil, or as I like to call them, “Cirque du WTF?!” Here, in some semblance of order, is what I think I saw. I’m still not really sure.

• Hundreds of small children enter with Ikea floor lamps. “Ikea” is Swedish for “common sense”. Is this irony? They are accompanied by a ballerina called The Guardian of the Javelin. She has a javelin—that’s how I know that she is the guardian OF it. Otherwise, she just pirouettes around while the children dance with their lamps. The announcer says they are “learning to overcome obstacles”. With Ikea floor lamps. I pour a drink.
• The children disappear, and a group of lacrosse players arrive. They do some crazy ass version of the Haka, while a guy wearing what looks like a meat mask does gymnastics. Also, a woman at the side of the stage spins a flaming hula hoop. This is “the origin of sport in Canada”. I pour another drink.
• A group of shiny faced robot men dance around the stage. One of them freaks out over a giant radio, while another opens a golf umbrella. The announcer tells us that this is “Canada’s tribute to love songs”.
• Giant shower curtains rise above the stage. A group of people who seem to be wearing gospel robes emerges from them. No, wait—the gospel robes are actually shower curtains which they are wearing like capes. Underneath, they are wearing towels. The announcer mutters something about “Hearts in Bloom”. He sounds dubious. I pour another drink.
• A character who looks like he just came out of a Mad Max movie arrives and starts glaring at everyone. The announcer states, without snickering, that this scene “represents the storm of both doubt and possibility, while the sky rains confessions.” The shower people continue to dance, while men on giant ladders swing around them. The shower people find piles of clothes and start throwing them in the air.
• Mad Max looks like he just found out that his water tanker is full of sand i.e.: very pissed off. The announcer says, “Reality approaches…” while the shower people find shoes and put them on.
• A Santa’s Village train comes on stage. The announcer says, “The Train of Life—like a thread from coast to coast…the arduous path…” I lose track because the train is so cute. Suddenly the lacrosse players are back. They look really sad. The announcer says something about “costumes underscore athletic vocation…” He sounds like he has no idea what he’s saying. I pour another drink.
• The “Guardian of the Discus appears to “inspire them to build a strong country and stable future”. He looks like the Riddler from Batman and is carrying a bar tray.

At this point, things get really random: BMX bikers start riding around wearing construction hard hats; two Michael Jackson look-alikes bounce on bungee cords while directing air traffic; the lacrosse players look like they are auditioning for So You Think You Can Dance. Suddenly, the announcer calls out, “The Moment of Truth approaches!” We’re on Yonge Street, “the final destination—the birth of unity and the realization of a dream!” He sounds really happy, especially about the “final destination” part. Then there’s a flurry of activity—shower people and lacrosse players dance; guys on treadmills atop Skyjacks run; a woman dressed like a Barbie Princess twirls; male strippers pole dance; there’s a giant lollipop tree; finally, Zoltar the Invincible appears wearing a helmet and cape and looks on as the torch is finally passed to Steve Nash, who lights the cauldron. I wonder if the people in the audience had the privilege of hearing the voice-over narration or were they just sitting there completely unaware that this represented the “Canadian Journey”. Because if you didn’t know that, you could never have made sense of any of it.

After that, it was pretty downhill, as the speeches progressed (even the announcer said things were “starting to lag”). One man informed the audience that Toronto was “in the heart of the Americas and the Carribean”. I suggested to Ken that perhaps he should have consulted a map first. There were two sign language interpreters, and at first Ken and I both thought one of them might be fake, because they were NOT signing the same things, but then we realized that one (the woman super-enthusiastically waving her hands around) must be French and the other (who looked bored) was English. Then a lovely, very old man came to the microphone. I think Spanish was his first language, but whatever it was, his English was a little spotty. He started speaking English first, and at some point, he seemed to be thanking the media, and said something about “the relentless fight against doping”. But he went on for quite a while, and Ken and I had this conversation:

Me: Who IS this guy?
Ken: I don’t actually know.
Me: What language is he speaking right now?
Ken: Uh…English?
Me (a few minutes later): Is he still speaking English?
Ken: No, I think he switched to…Spanish?
Me: The interpreters look confused. I’m telling you, I think they’re just making shit up right now. Deaf people all over Canada are getting the season summary of Game of Thrones. “Then Jon Snow brought a group of wildlings back to Castle Black…”

He finally finished speaking. At some point, the CN tower exploded in a shower of fireworks—I’m not sure when, because I may or may not have had several glasses of wine. At any rate, it was a spectacle, and something to be proud of, no doubt about it, even if no one understood it. But that’s Canada for you—anti-gun laws, gay marriage, and subtle symbolism.

One thought on “My Week 41: When Pigeons Attack, The Pan Am Opening Ceremonies

  1. John Craig says:

    The countries came in based on their Spanish names! And I found out the ‘Argentina’ came in first and before ‘Antigua & Barbuda’ because the first games were in Buenos Aires and not because the Spanish alphabet is somehow different. It was all very confusing, but incredibly weird and wonderful. We did not get the commentary in the stadium so I was very surprised when I watched our TV recording and discovered the deeper meaning of it all!


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