The Outer Boroughs

Friday’s post is in a kind of time-elapsed format, which mirrors my state of tuning-in and out that day.


7:15am I’ve already dismissed my Blackberry alarm once and grabbed 15 more minutes of precious rest, and I’m petrified of falling asleep again. Last night, all seven members of my workshop managed to gather in my living room to debrief our defenses, and we enjoyed each other’s company so much, along with the wine, Jen’s gigantuan pasta salad, samosas from the corner store down the street, and ice cream and apple pie brought by Melissa, that it was past midnight before everyone left, and 1:30am by the time I’d finished cleaning up.

8:00am “I thought I was going to be late,” I said as I hopped into my prof’s bubbly green Fiat, parked outside Keele station. He’s kindly offered to pick me up on the way to UTM to invigilate an exam. “It’s 8 on the dot,” he says, smiling. We speed down the Gardiner. The ravines around Mississauga Road are bright with young leaves. In contrast, I listen to my prof’s perspectives on our department’s administration, the career path of academia, and his weary voice.

8:52am Coffees in hand, we power-walk towards the exam location, and at last find Gym C where the booklets have already been set up by the exam center officer. She reads out the rules and regulations in a monotone. As I walk up and down the aisles I make small jokes to lighten up the student’s moods. “Your desk looks like Office Depot,” I say, at one student’s array of pens, pencils, highlighters and white-out pens. “I know, right?” a student across the aisle chimes in.

10:10am An hour into the exam, and I’m already sleepy despite the coffee. The other half of the gym is taken up by a sociology exam. All the other people here officially are on their smartphones, and I resist checking mine. It seems almost to rub it in the students’ face that they’re not allowed to use theirs. I walk up & down the aisles to keep alert, and also to get some exercise. I beam with pride at the detailed outlines some of the students are writing in minute script on the back of their booklets.

10:21 The weirdest thing is escorting students to the washrooms. The course is one that looks at diasporic writing about Toronto, and it’s terribly hard to cheat on an English exam. But the brief walk allows me to chat for a few minutes with each student, whose work I’ve marked all semester. As unbelievably as it sounds I never had a single TA in my undergraduate years. I now know what a luxury it is to get an essay graded and commented upon by an actual, full tenured prof.

11:58am Half the class, it seems, are still writing right up to the 3 hour mark. A few request a third booklet. I won’t have to mark the exams, which I feel a bit guilty about. I also feel bad about downing my breakfast (granola, yogurt, wedge of apple pie) and lunch (leftover salad with quinoa, tempeh and grilled eggplant) in front of the scribbling students, but my prof doesn’t seem to mind. I wouldn’t want my grumbling stomach to distract anyone.

12:20pm The exam is done, my prof has thanked me and lugged his burden up to his writing centre office, where several students will be waiting for him. “The shuttle bus schedule’s a little wonky during exam period,” he tells me. I assume that means it’s not as regular as it usually is, to my shock I’ve just missed the bus to St. George and the next one is in 2 hours?!

1:07pm I have no choice but to take the scenic route on the MI way bus. I have no idea what subway station I’m going to dropped off at, but I follow along on Google Latitude and get nervous when we veer north. Eventually we reach Islington, where I have to pay again to get onto the TTC. Ah well, someone’s got to help pay for this city’s infrastructure.

2:14pm I finally make it back downtown, what a relief! There’s time to return an overpriced make-up bag at the Bay that I thought might double as a clutch, and to buy wrapping paper and notecards in Yorkville. Free boxes of coconut water are being handed out in front of Anthropologie. One well-heeled woman tries to get a second box, “for a friend”. Oh, Yorkville.

3:00pm I’ve got a gift card to use up at the Paul Pecorella salon on Cumberland. I’m so tired that I almost drop asleep as the junior stylist shampoos my hair, and the unfamiliar feeling of someone else touch my scalp gives me tingles. When Gabrielle, the stylist tells me it’s ok to talk to her through the mirror, it seems the height of rudeness. She doesn’t know how I feel about mirrors. I’m not accustomed to temples of beauty. I was raised to always count one’s inner life higher than outward appearances. My mother cut my hair until I was a teenager, and then my hip, art-school sister did. I probably still would if they didn’t live on the other side of the country.

3:25pm It makes me glad to see my hair drop off to the floor– good riddance. It grows so fast that I often trim my bangs myself to keep them out of my eyes. Gabrielle seems disapproving of this– “when you’re in the neighborhood, drop in to get your bangs trimmed,” she says. It just seems like one more thing to have to upkeep. I think of the myriad of other services available that I’ve never tried, eyebrow tinting or facials, waxing and pedicures, massage and dermatology. Hair appointments still don’t seem necessary to me, and yet here I am.

3:58pm Gabrielle’s done a beautiful and expert job, and carefully blown-dry my hair with a round brush. I watch her, finally caving into seeing my reflection, and learn a few tricks. “This is how you’re going to blow dry it tomorrow, right?” she asks, like a teacher explaining mixed fractions. The owner somehow persuades me to purchase another gift card, for a future cut at about half price. This is how unnecessary things become unnecessary.

4:12pm Fortunately my graduate carrel at the Jackman Building is just a few blocks away, so I can rest there and make some tea. My roommate has texted to find out if I’m planning to head up to York U to see our other roommate’s short film. It’s her final, end-of-the year thesis project and Steph & I enjoyed seeing her short film last year on the big screen. At first I think I can hardly keep chugging, but then Tell Myself that films will be relaxing, that Steph might not be able to find her way around the concrete-clad York campus without me.

4:40pm I have a lovely chat in the English department kitchen with a student who’s taken a year off after her MA and is coming back to do her Phd. I feel like she is using the same arguments to persaude me not to give up the option of more graduate work, as she used on herself. She makes a good case but in the state I’m in, I might agree to a lobotomy.

5:32pm I rest on my head in my carrel, then go over to the bank to deposit some US cheques for Echolocation. They charge $5 per cheque! I have to think of some way to get around this for next year. Still it feels good to get one more task out of the way.

6:18pm The train stops, for no reason, between Wilson and Downsview, and I get a text message from Steph when we’re out in the open. Phhoooooebbee? The films start at 7pm, and but we still have to take a bus and grab some dinner beforehand.

7:02pm Steph and I settle into the rowdy Price family dinner with tandoori wraps from my favourite Indian take-out place in York Lanes. It has all kinds of hilarious bright yellow signage. I thought to snap some photos. I love the candid teaser tribute to the graduating students in the beginning, even though I don’t know them.

8:07pm Jenna’s film is after the intermission, so I manage to find her before she dashes out to get a snack for her parents. She takes some photos with her young cast, who treat her like a big sister. There’s another event happening in a screening theatre down the hall, and I buy a beer at their refreshment kiosk just as they’re closing up, then pour it into my water bottle to take inside. This is why you should always carry a water bottle with you. “Oh Phoebe, you can always find beer,” says Steph.

8:30pm There are some strong films, in particular a continuously shot film made up of a series of tableau-like scenes, very Luis Bunuel. It’s fun guessing what director each student film pays homage to. There’s an excellent documentary on The Room and bad movies, with the student interviewing over a dozen people, include the Midnight Madness programmers. Jenna’s October Country seems like a combination of The Tree of Life and Days of Heaven, a tribute to her favourite director, Terrence Mallick.

10:13pm On the train home, we’re surrounded by a bunch of girls and guys who are literally shouting to speak to each other, which Steph and I don’t notice until we switch trains at St. George. Why were they so loud? We can’t figure out why some people on the train feel the need to act as though they’re in their own living rooms, putting their feet on the seats, having conversations across the train.

11:04pm I have no memory of getting into bed, of getting ready for bed, or of falling asleep. I have traveled from one far corner of this immense city to another. It’s a day that hasn’t belonged to me, but to the other boroughs. And yet somehow, I feel a small sense of triumph. It’s surprised me that I’ve lasted this day, and enjoyed its sensations. Pushing yourself to your outer limits does reveal how far you can go before you reach it.

1 Comment

  1. That’s nice! Get a glance of my beloved daughter’s daily life. Read like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the not-so-depress version. Or Beatles’ A Day in the Life. Keep it up, so I don’t have to imagine something to worry.

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