I actually enjoyed the absence of social obligation during the Long Year of the Millennium Plague. And in The Mask Phase there was a certain welcome anonymity —- a year without being told that I’m “That Guy from W5.” One does not correct such mistakes because they are unimportant. But, even when they got the TV show and the network right, it was oddly unnerving in 2020 to be told how much someone was enjoying my appearances on the fifth estate where I actually worked for 24 years but not since 2014.
Even before the world closed down, I was never much of a social creature. Many years of work-related travel exhausted my capacity for excitement at another check-in desk at another airport or hotel or even the most enticing place to dine. Actually, I never dined. I ate regularly from an awareness of necessity.
Eating and drinking
I live close to the gregarious bustle of Danforth Ave. I discovered Allen’s on the Danforth (143 Danforth Ave.) many years ago when my friend and distant cousin, Sandy MacIntyre, played his fiddle there on certain weeknights. Sandy hailed from Inverness, in Cape Breton, and I’ve known his family since boyhood. At Allen’s I discovered that, besides the rustic down-home music, there was understated sophistication in the food and drink and service that was reminiscent of another eatery with the Allen name, the Joe Allen Restaurant in New York City.
The owner of the Danforth establishment, John Maxwell, had known and worked with the original Joe Allen in their early days and in tribute to his mentor and as motivation to maintain the high quality and success of the original Joe Allen restaurant, John named his Toronto premises Allen’s. The menu offers food for any mood, from a disciplined Caesar salad to hearty dishes built around top-grade Ontario beef. An efficient take-out service offered “eating-out-at-home” relief from dreary Covid routines.
John’s partner, Dora Keogh, owned a pub that bore her name just next door (141 Danforth Ave) — a classic “Irish” pub with a snug and an authenticity regularly reinforced by the appearance of traditional Irish musicians with their pipes and fiddles and bodhrans and spontaneity. Dora’s is for the cráic and the pint and the dram but if food is needed one could order it from the Allen’s kitchen, just next door.
Both places — Food great. Service unfailingly efficient and friendly, often with a hint of Gaelic in the accent. Bar, a spectacle of Scotch — including a rumoured bottle from which a single shot sells for $2,000. Intimate booths and a bustling dining area. And the sprawling back deck (at Allen’s), in one corner of which stands what must be nearly the largest willow tree in all Toronto. Entering Phase 3 of Ontario’s reopening, I look forward to revisiting both of these great establishments.
One walks the Danforth now, alert for the dreaded For Lease notice in a once welcoming doorway or window. So far, there are mercifully few.
Happily, I see Soulas (500A Danforth Ave.) my go-to Greeks for cheerful and efficient take out during the dark, uncertain days of Covid-19, bustling again; The Meat Dept., (207 Danforth Ave.) for when the moment required the quick nutrition of an extraordinary roast-beef sandwich; Ellas (674 Pape Ave.), the butcher shop around the corner, provider of healthy protein — beef, chicken, sausages — for the occasional sub-zero backyard feast around a fire pit for Covid-mandated groups of one or two. They’ve all improvised, adapted, survived, and maybe learned a trick or two about food and service that will become routine as business returns to normal, whatever that might look like.
When I was very young, television was a novelty. I didn’t have access to a television set until I was an adult. And when I finally had one of my own, I watched it constantly. Every night, for as long as the pictures lasted until the network turned itself off.
And then I became serious about life and I didn’t watch TV at all, except now and then when I, or someone that I knew, was on it. But time is inconsistent. I realized at some point in the unfolding of the Covid-19 drama that time had done a back-flip. I discovered streaming.
Once upon a time, I didn’t “go out” because there was nothing to go out to or because I didn’t have the money to “go out”. So, I watched free television.
Here I was again — I had money this time, but once again there was nothing to go out to. And so, by default, I was watching television once again. Obsessively.
The difference this time was that I, myself (with partner), could decide what I (we) would watch, and not some distant network programmer. What was odd was that while the sophistication of the product had evolved, my taste was fundamentally unchanged.
Where I once obsessively watched Gunsmoke, I now binged on Justified. Where I once watched The Man From UNCLE, or Danger Man, I was now riveted to a Norwegian series, Occupied.
Lupin offered fantasy, the kind of man that any boy or young adult male would (secretly) aspire to be, a Black Robin Hood, with brains instead of cunning and martial arts instead of bow and arrows.
I watched really worthy drama (Mare of East Town, City on a Hill), richly meaningful and relevant, but I was also glued to stuff that was sustained mostly by clever lines and raunchy laughs (Rake).
Going out or staying in, whether, from motivation or imperative, I now realize has more or less the same objective — escaping from our own reality by entering a stranger, perhaps more interesting, version of reality, while we wait for the reality of time to pass, the reality of life to change.
Toronto writer Linden MacIntyre’s latest novel, The Winter Wives, has just been released. The new psychological drama from the Scotiabank Giller Prize winner weaves threads of crime, disability and dementia together into a tale of unrequited love and delusion.