I know, I know, it’s Canada and it’s still March. I have no right to expect warm weather, or even decent weather. But usually by the time Spring has officially sprung things have started to turn to the brighter & warmer. This year, though — nyet. Rainy, grey, cold.
Back in February, when I was lamenting this particular winter, I detailed how I was pushing myself to get up and out of the house. “Lord knows, I can’t keep drowning myself in TV,” I said. But then I proceeded to drown myself in TV.
Luckily, there remain plenty of TV shows of superlative quality. I finished both seasons of Slow Horses, the first season of The Last Of Us, and the second season of Only Murders In The Building. I’m in the midst of watching the latest seasons of The Bad Batch, The Mandalorian, Yellowjackets, Party Down, and You. The final season of Succession starts tomorrow, and we haven’t even started the new season of Ted Lasso yet.
And in a purchase that combines two of my other favourite media (movies, books) I recently picked up Heat 2 (amazon) which apparently covers both the period immediately after the movie Heat concludes, and some origin story behind the movie’s characters. I’m pretty excited to read it.
We spent the past four days in New York City, my first time back there in years, and even longer for Lindsay. We were there for a couple of Lindsay’s research visits, but decided to extend it a bit and have some fun.
We were up early and out the door two hours later. At the airport in plenty of time, no issues at security, had an easy flight, practically sailed through Newark Airport…but our luck ran out when we tried to get into the city. The St. Patrick’s Day parade runs down 5th, right around the time we were arriving, and bisected the city. Our cabbie didn’t know about it, so we got caught circling the upper west side until I just told him where to go. What should have been 45 minutes turned into 2+ hours.
By then we had no time to get to the hotel and eat lunch, so we dropped Lindsay at her first appointment and I took the bags to the hotel in the ricketiest Uber that ever there was. I unpacked our suitcases, drank a beer, and ate some cookies. We were here.
We stayed at The Mark Hotel on the upper east side (near Lindsay’s two research appointments). It’s a very chic hotel, probably too cool for the likes of us. The room was big by NYC standards, even if the description of a “courtyard view” was a massive stretch.
So while it wasn’t the smoothest entry, at least the weather was nice: it was sunny and 14 degrees, so my walk all the way up 5th Ave to 103rd street – passing the dying remnants of the parade – was beautiful. I collected Lindsay and we walked slightly east, into East Harlem, to a wine bar called Alison. We were early so we circled the block and took a load off for a bit, before taking one of their patio seats and taking advantage of happy hour.
Considering we hadn’t eaten all day, we were pretty restrained. We ordered a dozen oysters & a bottle of Provençal rosé, lamb sliders, and some Old Bay fries before wrapping up with glasses of Rioja and Minervois. The food was good and the vibe was chill, but we had dinner reservations elsewhere. As it turned out, we would have done better to stay put.
After stopping in briefly at the hotel to recharge, we walked down to a restaurant called August, which we’d identified earlier in the day. The menu sounded good. The vibe sounded good. We were excited. But we were pretty quickly disappointed – we waited 25 minutes for our cocktails, which were both rubbish. (Like…how do you screw up a Negroni?)
Our apps were decent – charred octopus w/ fennel-herb salad, crispy potatoes & preserved lemon caper dressing and tuna tartare w/ avocado, waffle potato chips & soy ginger dressing, with which we ordered glasses of Gruner Veltliner & Chardonnay – but when the apps came we were told the kitchen was closing soon. So much for the city that never sleeps, I guess. So we walked home, still a tad hungry.
We slept right the hell in, we did. It was a long couple weeks.
After leaving there we walked across 91st for an early dinner at Kaia, a South African wine bar. And there, we had the kind of meal we’d been seeking in NYC since we landed. The wine, the food, the vibe, the staff: all exceptional. We felt like we bonded with our server Ayo. At the end of our meal we brought us glasses of Amarula, which I haven’t had since I was in Botswana ten years ago.
Gebakte Suurlemoene (baked lemons with artichoke, cherry tomato, green olives & goat cheese)
Eend Vlerkies (duck drumettes with kaia’s sticky mango chutney sauce)
‘Elk’ Carpaccio (elk carpaccio served with the owner’s mother’s mustard and a peppery arugula salad)
Rooibos Tee en Bosbessie Vark Ribbetjies (rooibos tea & cranberry baby back pork ribs, with coleslaw)
The wine was obviously all South African, and we recognized a few – Raats Jasper, Kanonkop Kadette, HER Shiraz – and loved the rest of what we tried:
La Brune Pinot Noir
The Foundry Grenache Noir
Bosman Nero D’Avola (x2; Lindsay loved it)
Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon
I asked Ayo to pick something for me, and he went for a Bordeaux blend, which was terrific.
He also brought us a De Toren Malbec called Délicate to try, which wasn’t even on the list. What a guy.
Anyway, we’d bought way too much food, and took the ribs back to the hotel for later.
We turned on our heels, and took an Uber to Broadway. Our driver made a heroic move that got us there on time. We were seeing A Doll’s House at The Hudson Theatre, and as we arrived Jessica Chastain was sitting, expressionless, on the stage as it slowly spun around. It was exceptional. Ibsen’s play, adapted for modern times, with a wonderfully stark and minimalist set, just chairs and shadows and that rotating floor. Jessica Chastain was her brilliant self; the remaining cast killed it as well. The ending was just the coolest thing. We left, Ubered home, and let our brains process it all.
We slept in again. Vacation! I’d accidentally frozen the ribs the night before, so that breakfast plan went out the window into the non-courtyard courtyard. We eventually left in search of food. It was much colder than the previous days, we we used sun and shelter strategically.
We decided we needed proper New York bagels, so after a bit of research we went to Bagel Shop on 3rd. We managed to get a table, and scarfed our enormous bagel sandwiches amongst the deli chaos. After that we decided to have a beer or three, so we crossed the street to the Third Avenue Alehouse. I ordered a Threes Brewing Volition Schwarzbier that was so flat I couldn’t drink it, but my Fifth Hammer Brewing Co. Smooth Jazzmin’ American Pale Ale, Aslin Beer Company Volcano Sauce Sour, and Who You Callin’ Old (Fashioned)? Cocktail w/ Old Forester Bourbon, cinnamon-rosemary maple syrup & cardamom bitters were all very good. Meanwhile Lindsay had a Delirium Tremens Belgian Strong Golden Ale, an Ever Grain Brewing Co. Vivify Red Ale, and a 3 Floyds Brewing Aggromaster Scottish Ale. Full of beer, we walked back to the hotel to chill (but also warm up) for a bit.
We decided we needed a reason to check out another neighbourhood, so we went to the Lower East Side. We were in search of a great pizza slice, and had heard Scarr’s was the best. We waited in line for about ten minutes and got a slice each and, yup. They were amazing. I want another one right now. Anyway, we scooted around the corner to a wine bar called Le Dive. We plopped ourselves at the end of the bar and split a bottle of Baga, then Raclette and some Bibb lettuce salad, then glasses of Barbera and Pineau d’Aunis – a new one for me. It was a cool little spot.
Back in the hotel room, we finally finished off the ribs from Kaia, and washed them down with some in-room cocktails.
One last thing on our must-do list: that sandwich from Pastrami Queen. They were, as advertised, delicious. We scarfed them down and packed up; after checking out Lindsay ran a half-errand, while I plopped myself in the hotel bar and held the fort until she came back. We drank our way through the by-the-glass list, gnoshed some fries, and Ubered to the airport. Security sucked; our flight was fine; our house was cold; we missed coming home to Kramer.
It was a tough week without Kramer. The sudden gut-punches still come, but each day is a little easier than the last. Now when I picture him curled up on the chair like a croissant, or remember him attacking my feet from under the bed, I can sense a little joy from the memory of his cuteness amidst all the sadness and loss.
I know that sense of happy memory will grow, as he joins all the other pets which live in my brain. I think about them all the time.
There was Bruno, the first dog I remember. He was a big husky/shepherd mix, and he died when I was around 4 or 5. I remember my mom telling my brothers and I.
Not long after that we got two cats, Snowflake and Tinkerbell. Tinkerbell didn’t live long, but we had Snowflake for a while. He was all white with a little grey patch on his head.
I remember when my Dad brought another puppy home from the SPCA. We named him Asterix, like the French comic. (Why we named him that and not Dogmatix, the actual dog in the comic, I’ll never know.) My dad took him because his paws were big, and he thought that meant Asterix would grow big too, but he was a goofy little 50-pound mutt. He was a loyal cutie, though.
After Snowflake died we got a kitten. I remember being there when we got him, though I’d not sure where we were…outside Amherst, maybe? I remember on the drive home in our Suburban he crawled up and went to sleep between my dad’s back and the car seat. We named him C.B., after Cresta Bear, which I think was some kind of soft drink mascot?
I believe we still had C.B. when we also got Skitter, another little black kitten. We named her that because she skittered and scampered all over the house. One night, when my brother and I were the only ones home, she got in Asterix’ face while he was sleeping, and he bit her. He bit the inside of her mouth, and when we came downstairs she was dripping blood. I was so scared, and mom and dad weren’t there. I called my grandparents who, god bless them, got dressed and drove to our house until mom and dad got home. Anyway, she survived, but not long after when my mom took her to get spayed she got an infection, and she didn’t come home. I remember mom having to tell us, and I remember crying on my bed. She was too young, and it didn’t feel fair.
Some time after that — I think for my 12th birthday? — we saw in the local paper that the SPCA had a litter of new kittens, and my mom called. They asked us if we could take the mother too, as all the other kittens had been adopted. We named the little orange kitten Tigger, and called the mama cat…uh, Mama. Not very inventive, I know. Tigger became my best bud — he let me carry him around on my shoulder, and he loved to squeeze himself into boxes and fruit baskets. He was a prolific hunter — he caught a rabbit once. He even caught an owl, for chrissakes. He was a chill dude. Mama, meanwhile, was tentative at first because she’d been badly abused by her previous owners, but she became a super-snuggly cat. She especially loved my dad, and would crawl onto his lap as he reclined in his living room chair, and knead his chest — with her claws — for hours. He would, of course, let her.
At some point a stray kitten showed up on our doorstep. I named him Patrick, after Patrick Roy. I don’t remember what happened to him. I don’t think we ever let him in the house. But he was there long enough that Mama didn’t take kindly to it, and she ran away.
Not long after I went to university mom told me that Asterix was gone. He’d lived a long life, and one morning he just couldn’t stand up, so she laid down with him on his mat and held him. He was our good boy for a long, long time.
Kind of in that same timeframe — my first few years at University — I got a call that Mama had come home. She’d come bounding across the field in front of our house, practically jumping into my dad’s arms. We never knew where she went for all those months, but she came back to us for her final few years.
My parents were never long without a dog, so around the end of my third year university they went to a breeder for a big rough Collie named Desi Maple Pride, who we called Stryder. Like Strider from Lord of the Rings, but with a twist. My mom picked him up from the breeder the day she drove me home to the farm, before I left for my third work term in Ottawa. I remember he whimpered a lot through the nights downstairs in the kitchen, until I turned on the radio for him so he didn’t feel as alone. I remember calling home from my brother’s place in Ottawa the next day, and leaving a message on the answering machine where I called to him so he wouldn’t feel alone. Mom said when she got home and listened to it that Stryder’s ears perked right up. He was always a scaredy-boy though — anytime there was a thunderstorm he’d sneak upstairs to my parents’ room. I remember that when we’d visit he’d get fired up and run circles around the kitchen table, knocking chairs over in the process, so we called him Circle Dog. He and Tigger had a hilarious and special friendship too — I think Stryder thought Tigger was his mom. Tigger tried to teach him how to hunt. Stryder would lick Tigger so hard he could barely stand up. Tigger would then grab Stryder behind the eyes, sink his claws into Stryder to hold him still, and then lick the dog’s whole face to clean it.
Around 2002 Tigger, who’d lived a long life, just didn’t come home — that was pretty typical on the farm. Cats would be caught by some other animal, or just crawl under a bush to die when they felt sick enough. Seven years later Stryder would also be gone, but by then my brother and his family had moved next door with their dog Riley, and then Ayce, and eventually Aly — all of whom would become dear to me too — and neighbour dogs suited my parents just fine, so Stryder was their last.
By then, Nellie and I had adopted Sonny and Michael from the Toronto Humane Society. They were giant fluffballs who stole our hearts. Sonny swung from the 10/10 affection to utter indifference. Michael was just stuck on 10, and would literally stay on the bed purring and kneading all night if we’d let him. We had them for ten great years. Sonny died after years of kidney complications; Michael died not long after, ostensibly from cancer, but in my opinion from a broken heart from losing his half-brother. Losing them was hard; farm cats only half live with you (Tigger would disappear for days at a time, and was never supper-snuggly) and it was the first time I’d had to make or co-make the decision to put a pet to sleep. It took me a long time to feel strong enough to adopt another pet. That pet was Kramer, when Lindsay showed me a picture of him being a dandy that melted my heart.
And so, as this haze of grief and loss dissipates, Kramer will take his place in my heart with all the beautiful, snuggly, silly boys and girls I’ve gotten to know over the last 45 years. I’m sad he had to go there so soon, but I feel so lucky it’s this full.
Lindsay and I have spent the last four days in a kind of shock. Tuesday night our hearts were broken as Kramer was taken from us so quickly we barely had time to say goodbye. This little scamp who came to us four years ago, hissing and scared and standoffish, who had turned into the cutest, snuggliest boy, who had become such a prominent part of our lives…he was suddenly gone.
Kramer was fine when I got home from work Tuesday. I got ready to leave for a dinner, and while I checked my phone one last time he jumped up on the couch next to me — purring, getting scratches, flopping about. Usual happy things from our happy boy.
I ran upstairs to say bye to Lindsay, and we came downstairs together. When we got here Kramer began barfing up a hairball. Typical, for a hairy little guy who can’t be brushed — hairballs were a constant. But this time it sounded different; we could hear him struggling. While I cleaned up the first hairball, Lindsay noticed Kramer couldn’t walk properly — his back logs weren’t working. Panicking, he dragged himself up the stairs, where he looked back at us, panting. I started moving up the stairs; he always runs from us when he’s sick, so he clambered into the bedroom, under the bed where we can’t reach him. He began howling, throwing up more, still panting, still unable to move his back legs. He was clearly very sick. I sat on the floor next to the bed, trying to speak to him calmly, while Lindsay grabbed the carrier from the basement. While she did, Kramer did something we’d never seen before: he dragged himself, with his front claws, all the way over to me, and rested his head on my leg. He knew. He knew something was very wrong.
He didn’t resist as I picked him up and placed him in the carrier. There’ve only been two other times he’s been in a carrier: once when we moved to the new house (after which he hid in the basement for six days), and once when Sarah first brought him to us to be adopted (after which he hid from us for weeks). The only other time we’d tried to even attempted to put him in a carrier he probably thought he was being given away again, and fought me so hard I was covered in scratches. This time: no resistance at all. Still, we knew this must have added to his anxiety and pain, but we had no choice. We got him into the car, and drove as quickly as we could to the emergency vet on McMurrich. Once there they quickly ran Kramer inside to begin tests, while we waited, scared shitless. They came out once to ask if they could sedate him, because scrappy little street cat that he was, he kept biting the vet assistants.
Finally, the vet herself came out. She told us the news was bad: he had thrown a clot that caused the back half of his body to shut down. We’d later learn this is called Saddle Thrombus, and it’s common in cats born with an enlarged heart. We knew from our one previous vet visit that he had a heart murmur. We didn’t know just how bad it was. Our sweet boy’s heart was just too big for this world. The vet said that there was really no treatment: it’s not just the back legs that shut down, it’s organs too. Our boy was scared and in pain, and he wasn’t going to get better, so there was only one thing we could do for him. We couldn’t believe it was happening. The tears started. They didn’t really stop for the rest of the night.
They brought him to us, somewhat sedated, but still feisty. He was meowing unhappily when they brought him in, but Lindsay and I started petting him, and talking to him, and singing to him. He stopped meowing, settled down, and looked each of deeply in the eyes. I thought he was making sure it was us, and in that moment I felt sure that he knew we hadn’t abandoned him. That we’d be with him through this. They sedated him further to run some double-confirmation tests, and brought him back to us. We could pet him, scratch his chin, and stroke him between his eyes, which was his absolute favourite. He was mostly unconscious, but deep inside there he must have known we were still with him. The vet administered the final dose, and while we stroked his luxurious furs one last time and told him how much we loved him, he went to sleep for the last time. Our perfect boy. Our little bug. Our prince, our bubsy, our ham. It didn’t seem real.
The vet offered to shave a little of that world-class fur for us to take home, and we did. We said our final goodbyes, kissed his little head, and left. I somehow drove home as the tears really started coming. It was surreal to walk back into the house without him. We were in shock, and we could so palpably feel the absence of his somehow-giant presence in our home.
The days since then have been tough. My morning ritual, where he’d greet me as I make coffee and then snuggle with me on the couch, is a harsh reminder each day. We keep expecting to see him trot down the stairs, or brush against our legs as we sit on the couch. Every time we hear a noise in the house we think it’s him jumping off of something upstairs. We have little breakdowns throughout the day as memories flood back, or as we see his toys scattered around. The other day I walked into our office for a meeting, and saw his little stuffed wine bottle toy on the daybed where he would sleep behind me as I worked, and I melted down. I confess, we’ve both reached into the bag of his hair to touch it a few times. We miss him so fucking much. Since moving to the house he’d become a non-stop fountain of affection (who would, admittedly, scratch the crap out of us on occasion) and it feels like a huge part of us is missing.
Right now it’s all hurt, but we know at some point the hurt will give way to all the beautiful memories of the life he lived with us. We’re so grateful for the years we had with him. We’re thankful we took so many pictures and videos of him — they’ve helped these last few days. We’re even glad we were both home when this happened, so we could help him as much as he could be helped in those final hours, and we’re thankful we could spend his last moments with him so he knew his family didn’t leave him. Most of all, we’re grateful he trusted us to make him feel safe. He was less than six years old, but he loved — and was loved — enough for five lifetimes.
We miss you so much, bud. Rest easy, wherever you are.
Earlier this week Lindsay and I attended a dinner we won in the Grapes For Humanity charity auction with three other couples (two of whom were also at last year’s Bachelder dinner at Barberian’s). This year’s prize was a dinner at Richmond Station with Southbrook‘s owner Bill Redelmeier and a board member from Tree Canada. Southbrook has long been a favourite of mine, but I’d not yet met Bill, so that was an extra treat. I also knew the food at Richmond Station would be great, but wow…they stepped up their game even more than usual.
Chocolate ice cream, white chocolate ganache, chocolate shortbread
Paired with Southbrook Cassis Dessert Wine
Lindsay and I just went back over the menu trying to pick out a favourite course, and realized every single thing was excellent.
As for the guest of honor: Bill’s been in and around this space forever, and it was amazing to pick his brain and hear his thoughts about the industry. Terrific wine, excellent conversation, superlative food, and great friends. The kind of night you wish wouldn’t end.
Last night we finally watched Everything Everywhere All at Once (imdb | rotten tomatoes). As thw whole world knows by now, it’s amazing. The acting, the visual effects, the emotion, the humor…all of it. Even the most absurd scenes (the rocks, Raccacoonie, etc.) were also somehow moving.cFrankly, I’m bummed I didn’t watch it back in the summer when my brother told me I should — by now I’ve seen enough clips and heard enough about it that it wasn’t quite the surprise it would have been. But still: best movie I’ve seen in a while.
We’re also slowly making our way through The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Lindsay often seems to slow down on non-comedy shows right around the third season) so it was fun to see Stephanie Hsu here.
Last night we experienced what would have been a fairly typical Saturday night prior to 2020: we went to dinner and a show. Specifically, dinner at Gare de l’Est and a play called Girls & Boys at Crow’s Theatre.
First: dinner. It was a lovely, tasty time, and we ended up swapping wine stories with the general manager. I was also eyeing the brunch menu and thinking we need to get back there some weekend. Anyway, here’s what we ate:
baguette & beurre
scallop crudo w/ plantain chips
crispy confit duck leg, cherry preserve, green salad, frites
bottle of Pearce Predhomme Pinot Noir
Then, the play: ooof. It was good, but it was about such a tough subject. We were wondering why it came with such an emphatic content warning, but we found out soon enough. It was one woman on a small stage for 90 minutes, and we left wondering how she could run that dialogue night after night after night. One patron actually had to get up and leave about 3/4 of the way through, which they expected — the actress stopped the dialogue briefly to let the woman know it was okay to cross in front of the stage, and explained that it happens sometimes. I don’t want to give away too much of why the content was so harrowing, but…yeah. Incredibly impressive performance, and it’ll be sitting with me for a while.
It’s been brutally cold for the last 36 hours or so. Well, brutally cold for Toronto, not for the rest of Canada. There was at least a bit of sunlight, a rarity these last two months, but it was too cold to go outside and enjoy it. I feel trapped inside, though I’m glad we’re in the house and not the loft anymore.
I have to say: in recent years I’ve found Januaries and Februaries harder and harder to deal with. I’m not sure I’d be formally diagnosed with SAD, but I certainly recognize the struggle in myself in the tough parts of the season. So, I’m trying to push out of it. I have drinks lined up two old friends/ex-colleagues this week. Then Lindsay and I are going to a play on Saturday, and might work a dinner in there too. I’m also trying to organize myself into a work trip in March.
Lord knows, I can’t keep drowning myself in TV…though it’s been good TV. I finished the exceptional Better Call Saul, I binged Yellowstone (which is mediocre, but entertaining), I’ve started The Last Of Us and the new season of The Bad Batch, and I’ve somehow found myself halfway through The Staircase. Just as well there’re so many good shows; it’s been hard to watch both the Canadiens and Raptors lately. I’m basically hoping for good trade deadline drama and high draft picks.
To sum this year up: I know Groundhog Day is absurd, but — having a vested interest in eventually seeing the sun — I found myself wondering what the woodchuck’s prognosis for spring would be on Thursday. Of course, this is the year they found the poor groundhog dead.
More and more, lately, I’m struggling to feel at home in Toronto.
I’m certainly engaging with it less. I used to go to TIFF every year, and Hot Docs. I used to go to concerts and beer festivals and Raptors games, and try new restaurants, and go to St. Lawrence Market every weekend. Obviously COVID put a serious crimp in those plans, but I haven’t seemed to recover. Anyway, I was tailing way off on stuff like that before COVID. Even moving to this side of the Don River has made it feel tougher than when I lived a block from Yonge Street. It used to take 5-10 minutes to get downtown in an uber; now traffic and construction are so bad that it seems to take 25 minutes to get any-fucking-where. I know I can fix this particular sense of disconnection by just doing these sorts of things again, but it just feels like so much more effort now.
I used to feel more connected to the city by taking transit everywhere, but now I drive to the office. I haven’t been on the subway in nearly three years, and given the kind of random violence that seems to happen on the TTC every other day, I’m in no hurry to get back on it. Speaking of random, people getting stabbed to death by swarms of teenaged girls, or getting jabbed in the back with a needle by a stranger, or having their homes sold without their knowledge…Toronto’s always been a big city and it’s always suffered from violence, but this feels different. Maybe it happens every time a recession drives more people to desperation or conflict and I just don’t remember. But this is my third in this city, and it sure doesn’t feel familiar.
I’ve probably watched Interstellar all the way through half a dozen times now. I’m not sure I’ll ever get tired of it. The visuals, the music, the drama, the feels. I watched it again on Thursday and it still thrilled me. There are plenty of movies I’ll throw on in the background again and again, half-ignoring them while I read or do something else, but add this one to the short list of films that grab my attention every single time.