My Week 269: Launched, When Pigeons Attack

Last weekend, I had a book launch for my new novel The Dome (shameless plug, and if you read it and like it, can you please leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads or whatnot? Also, here is a link to The Dome on Amazon.com (use Amazon.ca if you’re in Canada) before I get pigeoned to death lol!). Anyway, the local pub hosted it, and it was not without its funny moments. First, Ken had to go out of town suddenly in the morning and said to me, “Hey, I might be gone for a while so if you get a minute, can you decorate the cake?” We looked at each other for a second. I pointed to myself questioningly. He nodded in resignation then shrugged and left. This pantomime was in response to the fact that I decorate cakes in very much the same way that I wrap Christmas presents, which is to say, “like a small child”. But he’d applied the base coat—my only job was to pretty it up. He’d made two cakes and put them together to make a book shape. There was green and red icing, and a small CN Tower model. We had some muffins so I decided to take the top off one and use it for the SkyDome (that’s what it used to be called before it was bought by a series of corporations—it was called the Air Canada Centre at one point but I think it’s the Rogers Centre now, and I’m sure in a couple of years it will be owned by a beer company and be called something like The Heiny-Dome, but it will always be the SkyDome to me).

I put the model of the tower on one side, ripped the top off a muffin and stuck that next to it. It didn’t look much like the Toronto skyline, so I rooted around in a box of Hallowe’en candy and found some little Hershey bars that I could stick in the cake to look like skyscrapers. Then I wrote The Dome at the top. I stood back to examine my efforts and decided it needed something more, so I looked up images of maple leaves online and drew one on the left side. It wasn’t much of an improvement. The muffin was chocolate and it looked like someone had taken a dump on the cake.

I gave up, and went to get dressed. When Ken finally came home, he said, “What’s wrong?” I pointed wordlessly to the cake.

Ken: It looks great! The maple leaf is VERY professional, although I’m not quite sure what it’s for…
Me: It’s the symbol of the rebel movement IN THE NOVEL, KEN! Did you even read my book?!!
Ken: Oh right! Well, it looks just…super.
Me: No, it doesn’t. I suck at decorating.
Ken: I can salvage—I mean finish it for you. Don’t worry.

And he did. It looked much better after he worked on it, although he didn’t have a lot of time or supplies—the only thing left in the Hallowe’en box was licorice.

Then we got to the pub a little early to set up and it was PACKED WITH HUNTERS, and I was like, Oh god, are they going to be here all afternoon? There was a table of about 12 of them right in front of the stage area, so I jokingly yelled, “Hey, thanks for coming to my book launch!” and they all stared at me like I was a deer they wanted to shoot. Luckily, they were getting ready to go kill more stuff, and by the time the launch actually started, they were gone. The rest of the afternoon was fantastic, with between 50 to 60 people showing up. I did a reading and sold out all the books I’d brought with me. At one point during the afternoon, I started to tear up because I was overwhelmed by all the love and support I was getting from everyone. So thanks to all of you out there—it means a lot. And all the cake got eaten.

We now return to our irregular programming…

Last week, I went out for lunch with some friends from work. We were at a place called the Upper Deck where, in the summer, the windows are removed and it becomes an enormous patio. But the windows aren’t sealed tight in the winter and birds can still get in and out. We were sitting there talking and suddenly something plummeted from the ceiling and landed directly in my lap. I was mid-sentence and interrupted myself with a loud scream. Everyone, including ALL THE OTHER PEOPLE IN THE RESTAURANT, looked at me. I held up a giant pigeon feather and yelled, “What the f*ck!!” And it reminded me of the time a couple of summers ago, when something similar happened on a different patio.

Every restaurant in downtown Toronto, regardless of the size of their frontage, has at least one table out front in the summer, 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 the biggest hazard to patio season is the wildlife, which brings me to the point of this story. I had gone with a group of colleagues after work for a drink. Patios are so popular in the summer 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 large showerheads, not actual men. I was in a gay bar last summer 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!” It was fabulous).

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 the panhandlers of the bird world—they have no problem at all approaching you to scam you out of your food or give 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, the pigeon and I 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, if I’m not even safe from them in the winter. 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 sidewalk next to me. Instinctively, I told it to f*ck 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.

My Week 134: Toronto the Weird

Saturday: Old Man Kicking Pigeons

I was looking for something to write about and checked my phone, where I keep notes. The only thing I’d put in there recently was “Old Man Kicking Pigeons”. I saw this at Dundas Square, a place in central downtown Toronto where strange things happen on a daily basis. The man was about 6 feet tall, wearing a dress shirt, dress pants, and leather shoes. He had white hair and a neatly trimmed white beard. And he was stomping around, Frankenstein-style, with his arms out in front of him, trying to kick the pigeons that were landing on the sidewalk to peck at crumbs and then running out onto the road to flail at them. Now, you might be all like “That’s horrible!”, but don’t worry because downtown pigeons are clever as f*ck, and instinctively can dodge cars, pedestrians, raccoons, and crazy old dudes. But this wasn’t even the weirdest thing that I saw there that day. There was also a woman dressed as Alice In Wonderland, but she had a rabbit face and ears and was standing on a large box. There was a man with a cat that does tricks like dancing on its back legs or jumping onto his shoulders, which, I suppose is pretty tricksy for a cat, considering Raven just gives me the death stare when I say, “Come here”. There are fire-eaters, proselytizers, steel drum musicians, sidewalk chalk artists, and someone wandering around wearing a poo emoji hat for who knows what reason. It’s like the worst circus in the world, but it’s free (unless you volunteer to pay for the ‘free’ Bible/Koran or give someone money for miming how to get out of a box), but everyone wants to see it. There are actually “sightseeing bus tours” in Toronto, these double decker jobs that stop at Dundas Square and everyone piles out and takes selfies with Alice and the guy with the “The Apocalypse is Nigh” sign (he actually has a very nice smile, which he doesn’t get to use much due to the end of the world coming and whatnot). And all I can think is how cool this must seem to all the tourists. But to me, the coolest thing is that it’s the only intersection with diagonal as well as straight pedestrian crossings, so suddenly the light will change and people are traversing the road in this incredibly orderly pattern, kind of like that city scene in The Matrix, only instead of the lady in red, there’s a homeless guy with his pants down around his knees and Neo is selling knock-off handbags while Mr. Smith is kicking pigeons. Toronto—it’s weird and wonderful, but mostly weird.