Tag Archives: Toronto

Revisiting Toronto

When I left, I never in a million years imagined that I would be back in this city. The love/hate relationship that I had with the city and its people when I lived there had me all kinds of conflicted and when I eventually left, I vowed that I wouldn’t return. And then the travel gods made it so that transiting through Toronto from Amman to Bogota was the cheapest way for me to go and so I returned. The massive influx of memories that I had during my two days here was huge. I remembered so many things that I had forgotten and look upon fondly. Majority of the memories were oddly from my first 6 months living there when I was young, bright eyed and had never lived overseas before. So for me, and for those that were with me during those times, here are some of the memories that surfaced as I strolled around the streets of Toronto.

The first thing I remembered as I walked out of the Toronto Pearson Airport customs area was my friend Dayna greeting me on that very first day I arrived with a Tim Horton’s hot chocolate and a box of Timbits. It was almost like a homecoming. Unlike that day, I made my way to the new UP Express train to the city and got on board.

My first view of Toronto arriving this time

As I exited Union Station onto the street, that crisp cold hit me. I walked along Front Street past the Hockey Museum I said I’d go to and never did with the statues out the front. I couldn’t see the top of CN Tower that my ex used to call the ‘seeing tower’ as it was too foggy, but the lights of the lower half let you know that it was there and waiting. I made my way to the hostel where I lived for my first six months with one of my best friends and checked in.

Outside the hockey museum with the boys

The hostel had been newly renovated. The blue and orange colours of old were now replaced with white and black. The reception had moved to the front instead of the side and I made my way to check in. Despite the place being completely renovated, the bones reminded me of the old place. There is a new kitchen now where I won a beer and toothpaste in the pool competition and Tash and I carved a pumpkin on the floor for our first ever Halloween.

The first ever Halloween pumpkin carving

The couches we used to jump on while singing the Shakira Africa song, and where we drew on sleeping people’s faces has now been replaced with dining tables and chairs. The downstairs area in the Cavern is now a bar and bistro with live music, instead of the living room and kitchen. I went down to visit. The memories of dancing on the cavern tables for New Year, reading erotic literature from the bookshelf to the masses, threatening people who kept stealing my chocolate milk with laxatives, hiding in the laundry room to gossip with Del and Cian and just general shit talking with the other long termers came back.

Threatening notes on my chocolate milk

The rooms are pretty much the same. Too hot. I got up in the night to turn off the heater and another girl got up and turned it back on. Tash and our other roommate used to fight over this all the time. It made me smile. I remember her coming home frequently with shit that she had stolen from out on the street when coming home drunk. The room we shared was so full of massive real estate signs, traffic cones (Tash’s doing), dildo’s and sex toys (my doing – stolen or acquired from the drag bar but more on that later) that we had an interesting time on our last night there trying to sneak all the shit down several flights of stairs and out the back door so that the staff members didn’t find out. I had quite the fetish for chocolate coated peanuts in those days too. I disgustingly used to keep a bag of them beside my pillow and eat them when I woke up after nights out so that I didn’t have to get out of bed to eat. That then became a daily occurrence. For my birthday Tash bought me 20 dollars worth of them and they were gone in the 2 days I spent on the couch feeling sorry for myself with a cold I contracted from a guy I made out with after Dirty Bingo.

New Years Eve dancing on the tables in the Cavern

That first day I went to get Timmy’s for breakfast and made way to the Eaton Centre where I used to work. Fossil was the same but the Aveda had been renovated. I walked around inside and sampled some new product before checking out what else was different. The Sears is now a Nordstrom. For that first Halloween, Tash and I went shopping at the Sears for my costume, a pillowcase that I cut up to go as Wilma Flintstone. In the process we tried some granny panties on our heads and took dumb photos.

Sears granny panties

I still remembered how to navigate through the PATH so I explored my other old workplace noticing that all the places I used to eat lunch have now gone except the Yogenfruz. So I got a Yogenfruz to go. As I walked along Queen St W I noticed that quite a lot of things had changed. There is a Toronto sign now in Nathan Philips Square, the shops have all changed. Luckily for me my favourite underwear store was still there and I went in to get some more bras. In those days I was obsessed and literally bought the store out of sets. I walked past the large car park where they had the Much Music concert and I got to see Lady Gaga perform among many other acts.

At least they still have Tim Hortons!

Up into Chinatown I went. Chinatown became a haunt of mine in Toronto because I was poor. Unfortunately the five dollar barbecue pork I loved no longer exists, but the Mashion Chinese bakery where Anthony and I used to eat all the time still did and I went in for some egg tarts. Just as I remembered them. Chinatown has lost a bit of its charm these days as people have started making upmarket places in the middle of something that was fabulously grimy. It doesn’t have the same feel anymore.

Home of the ever popular egg tart and hotdog in bun

Over in Kensington, nothing had changed. The College Backpackers where I lived for a while looked exactly the same from the outside as it did six years ago. This place was filled with utter nut jobs. I remember sharing a room with one woman who thought that all Tim Horton’s employees were in cahoots with her husband who was trying to poison her so she couldn’t eat there. She wore a mask at all times too just in case. There was also a woman with some kind of schizophrenia who used to pace the kitchen having conversations with herself. One minute she’d be a lawyer defending Prince Charles as the father of Prince Harry and the next she’d be having a conversation about gardening. I did however meet some lovely people while I was there. We bonded over not being crazy. And I still have the thermos cup that the lovely Irish guy, Peter, gave me for doing his Canadian taxes for him.

Trying on stuff in the army store in Kensington

From here I walked along College St where I used to spend a large number of my days walking flyers for a living for eleven dollars an hour. Because I was pretty quick at my job, I used to take an hour for lunch at Hero Burger and stay on the clock for it. Unfortunately all the Hero Burger’s in Toronto have magically disappeared along with many of my other favourite things. But the building where I studied my TESOL course was there and I was fortunate enough to catch up with a friend I made on that course and learn some interesting gossip.

My first ever Marlies hockey game

I walked down Yonge St, past the Zanzibar…. flashback to that one afternoon where Del, Cian and I decided to do Culture Wednesday and went to the museum and then somehow managed to wind up at 4pm in the Zanzibar stripclub laughing at the men wipe the poles between each woman that came out to dance. Past the Stag Shop where I spent some time shopping with a friend as she convinced me that the government liked to fuck people so we were getting vibrators courtesy of her government tax rebate.  And past the place Zelda’s was, where Dirty Bingo once took place. After getting a free drink voucher from a guy who was leaving, we went in to watch the drag queens lead the bingo and wound up with one of the guys we were with getting hauled up for naked bingo. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life. Then with the help of Del’s jacket, we stole a giant double ended dildo that we waved at people and slapped taxi’s with the whole way down the street home before I put the thing in Tash’s bed with her. I am trying not to laugh hysterically as she wakes up and something goes ‘thump’ on the floor and she puts her hand on it turns the light on her phone on and mutters ‘oh my god, my hand smells like giant dick’. She got her own back though, cause later that morning I was woken up by a giant dildo prodding me in the face.

When shit got real at Dirty Bingo

And then of course there are the memories of the gay village and Crews and Tango. I went back on the Monday night which used to be Candice’s Star Search and watched Carlotta Carlisle perform. Once upon a time many years ago I was a support act for her. Just watching her made all the memories flood back. My friend DJ Quinces was there too and we had a chat about the good old days. I used to take part in some of her showcases at Buddies In Bad Times called Rendezvous to which some of the videos of my being a total hussy are still on the internet. I have so many fond memories of performing in that place. I remember doing an impromptu duet of Lady Marmalade with Amanda Roberts. Jumping up and down on the stage screaming out the Barbara Streisand song with Carlotta and Devine but saying our names instead of Barbara’s. I remember trying on the drag queens wigs and getting way more than I bargained for with bit tucking in the dressing rooms.

The girls and I into the wigs

I remember my crew spreading nasty rumours about other contestants I was competing against in the star search to get votes. I remember supporting Jade Elektra and meeting some lovely people to collaborate with. I remember filling my friends handbag up with condoms and having her empty them on the table in the middle of the hostel in front of everyone saying ‘I believe these are yours’. I remember how much of a kick I used to get out of singing the difficult diva songs. I remember meeting my ex there and the boys giving him shit for having straight shoes. They did the birthday draw and because we nearly have the same birthday we were up together on stage and they heckled him to take his shirt off……. whoa. And of course, how it helped me to survive through a time where money was tight and work was infrequent. Some of the fondest memories that I have exist in that place and I was so grateful to be able to go back there.

Doing my thing at Crews

Many people say that you shouldn’t go back to a place where you had the best time ever. And granted, those months were not exactly the easiest. There were a lot of bad memories and a lot of really tough times. But at the same time, I was really happy and thankful to be able to walk back and get reacquainted with a self that was wide eyed and so excited about getting out into the world. I am hoping that some of it encourages me now to take the same kinds of risks in my newest adventure. Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed my memories! Until next time x

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Being Down To Your Last $10 For A Week

Sometimes in this life you need to recognize when the higher powers are throwing lemons at you and saying ‘Come on! Juice me! Make lemonade!’

So on this one particular day I am making my way down the street on my way home after getting little work flyering during the week and having just paid my last rent check for a week. I have ten dollars burning a hole in my wallet and this is literally all I have to my name. That and the eighty one cents that I have in my bank account that I probably can’t withdraw. The plans are wandering through the brain…. “What exactly can I get in Chinatown for ten dollars that will feed me for three and a half days until I get paid? Mmmm…. 5 for $1 rice vermicelli noodles, Mr. Noodles, maybe even splurge and get a banana….. a person does need some vitamins.”

As I ponder these things I walk past a restaurant which has in the window ‘dishwasher for tonight needed’. “Oh hell yes!” I think to myself and I walk inside. “Hi! You need a dishwasher?”

“Yes. Are you a dishwasher?” he responds.

“I can be. What is the going rate?” I say.

“Ten bucks an hour for 8 hours. Maybe more. It is our closing night before we do renovations” he tells me.

“Feed me and you have yourself a deal.” I said.

‘Done! You can start now”.

So before I know it I am hustled up to the back of this kitchen and decked out in aprons and other fun things that are ‘chef like’ that are way too over-sized for me. Then I am shown around the kitchen. “Here is your hose to wash things off, here is your dishwasher, here is your bucket with a cloth, start washing walls”. Argh, shitful…. anyway. That is when the fun started and Alberto says “What would you like to eat?”.

So I tell him “I will eat whatever”. So my new best friend Alberto comes back with this salad with balsamic vinegar soaked strawberries and prosciutto that tastes more like heaven than any salad I have ever had in my life. I ate like a woman possessed who hadn’t been fed in about ten years and got back to cleaning some dishes. Then Roberto says to me ‘before it gets busy, maybe I can make you some food?’ Ummmm…. hell yeah you can make me some food! So then I wind up with a pasta covered in parmesan and olive oil with prawns and garlic. Amazing!

So then the real work began. And it was flat out. It was such a busy night that I struggled to keep up with things, but what made it all the more fun was that I got to listen to flamenco music playing live from just outside of the kitchen and it was incredibly uplifting. I was floating on air given  that several hours earlier my options were Mr Noodles, Mr Noodles and more Mr Noodles. So I washed and danced in a state of merriment and before I knew it, it was getting on towards close time. Things were winding down. They had some desert left over from the night. Hello caramel flan!! I will have two of you thank you!

What is even better is that at the end of the night they had food in the fridge that they were going to throw out as they were closing for the renovations. Like a mad woman hoarder I am stuffing sliced oranges, tiramisu, chopped vegetables, half a prosciutto leg and whatever else I could get my hands on into multiple shopping bags. I must have looked like the biggest scab of a homeless person ever. If I felt that I could have carried more I probably would have stuffed another flan in my bra! But needless to say I finished up my night of washing, thanked them kindly for everything and headed home at 2am with my $80 cash in my wallet and my bags of goodies.

It is funny to think of how quickly the tides can turn in some situations. Eight hours ago I was walking down the street contemplating Mr Noodles flavours, and at 2am, I am happier than a pig in shit trotting down the street with all of my food and money with a flamenco music band dancing around in my head shaking my booty. Most of the patrons on the street probably thought I was drunk I was so goddamn ecstatic. Life couldn’t have been better! And neither could my stomach!

Being A Human Guinea Pig

As promised from the previous article “Five Different Ways To Challenge Yourself Daily”, my experiences with the medical testing world.

So when work keeps telling you consistently ‘sorry there are just no hours this week’ (which to be honest is a crock of shit, but we are trying to keep this light and the topic of workplace rights and legislation in Canada makes me very angry), we resort to the only thing we know for more work…. Craigslist.

There is a marvel of things you can find in the ‘ETC.’ section of the Toronto Craigslist and so this is how my run as a human guinea pig began. ‘Oh you will pay me a couple of hundred dollars to do a PET scan and and MRI? No problem! You want to pay me to stick electrodes to my head and play me pulses to see how my brain responds? No problem! And so it goes on.

To clarify, there are specific types of testing that I am not willing to do. For one, I am not happy about being a guinea pig for drug trials. I don’t particularly feel that my ovaries or the rest of my body would be appreciative of me pumping it full something in it that is going to render my parts dysfunctional for a measly couple of hundred bucks. But if you want to look at how my body functions normally by doing a series of tests, then be my guest. As a scientist, I am more than happy to do my part for science.

So, here we go….

The other day I went to the geriatrics hospital. They do a lot of research for Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain disorders and I have done multiple experiments for them. Of the most basic is the EEG, which is where you go in, they strap electrodes to your brain, put some earplugs in and they make you listen to semitone sounds on ‘ooh’ or ‘ahh’ and make you hit buttons to tell you if it is an ‘ooh’ or an ‘aah’. The best part about this is the second part where they make you listen to random sounds for an hour while you watch a kids movie on silent. For me it was a crazy movie about a raccoon that steals and destroys a bears stash of food for the winter and then sets about manipulating other animals into reacquiring what it is that he lost by stealing from the humans. Awesomely funny, even if it is on mute with subtitles. I did this twice before I started getting called in for different tests.

Other EEG tasks I have done have been musical tests where I listen to two sounds and decide if they are the same or different and then replicate the sounds singing later. I have also done tests where they give you 35 sets of 2 completely unrelated words and you have to try and develop a correlation between them in five seconds so that later when they flash you the first word, you have to remember the second word. Hugely frustrating as this is most difficult of the tasks I had ever been given. One time I also had to sit with an eye movement tracker on while I watched a series of video clips and pictures to see where I was looking at on the screen.

EEG
Smashing out some memory games with the electrode cap on

Two days ago they did a test on my memory and how the brain stores information. They sat me at a computer and they would flash a word at me like ‘giraffe’. I would then as quickly as possible determine whether it is living or non living using the buttons strapped to my fingers. From there I had to do this really quick mathematical addition in my head with numbers flashing up on the screen at me and then decide whether the number they showed me at the end was the correct answer to the addition. From there, you then have to recall the word. They do all of this while you are strapped into an MRI machine measuring the different activities of your brain in doing the sums and the recall. The hypothesis that they are testing is whether or not the long term memory is more effective when you focus more on the word that you have to remember or when you are busy with a distractor task, ie. the maths sums. Strangely enough, they have been finding that the words that you do the distractor task with are more likely to be remembered long term as the way that these words are processed in the brain is different. Really interesting study. Probably why I did so well at university studying with the TV on, the radio on, talking on the phone and trying to read at the same time! Me being as competitive as I am too, I had to try and beat my own scores and the scores of others with the decision making and the maths. I was killing it to a point. 85-90% 🙂 Not bad when the average is around 60-70% for the maths! Looks like all of the learning books and the brain training games are paying off!

1016 axial
MRI scan of my brain. I told people I have one, they didn’t believe me

Of the most lucrative and probably most uncomfortable of the medical tests that I have done was the PET scan. After doing a two hour screening of different IQ type tests with shapes and logic and a psychological evaluation, they sent me off to do the scan. They put me in a hospital gown, laid me onto the table and then started to put in the arterial line in my left wrist. Luckily they hit it the first time so it wasn’t too bad in the healing process. They put the radiotracer into my right arm and then I pretty much laid in the machine for 2 hours while they scanned my brain to see where the radiotracer was collecting and if it was more concentrated in specific areas of the brain or not for a specific enzyme that they are attributing to swelling in the brain that is related to depression.

They took different blood samples from my wrist throughout the experiment to look at the concentration of the radiotracer in my blood and I have to say it wasn’t the most comfortable of situations. What I didn’t realize was that they actually put a plaster cast thing over your face to lock it into place for the scan so that your head doesn’t move. So here I am, head locked in in a plaster cast, needles sticking out of my arms, the most ADHD I have ever been and all I wanted to do was go for a dance or move around or do something! The two hours were finally up, I had my arterial line out, went for a 20 minute MRI and took my cash for the day. More money than I would have earned in the space of a week and a half working for minimum wage in Toronto on half a day of being a guinea pig for the advancement of science. I will most certainly take that.

I do find all of these things quite interesting so in the grand scheme of travelling, it is something new and different to add to the resume and it pays quite well. And hey, it is just another thing to tell the grandkids right? Provided that my memory holds out in the long run. Hopefully my participation in research will help them find ways to overcome memory degeneration with age so that I can continue to achieve my million and one goals. And so I won’t have to be a drunk nana in a nursing home rocking chair on the porch enjoying the blissful ignorance of my existence.