Sunday, 5 February 2017


Adventures in the Land of Meat and Dough

Last Thursday was our day of supporting dying craftsmanship. We dropped a two-shoulder hide off with a stout, bearded man who repairs and refurbishes chairs, and only chairs for his living. The leather we bought was supple but scarred with a ranch brand and barbed wire scrapes. So what. Our reclaimed chairs will be tucked under the dining room table or sat upon, and possibly sat upon by somebody with idiotically sharp metal decorations on the ass pockets of their jeans. The crowded space was a workshop, not a showroom. It was not pristine but it smelled good: wood, oil, polish, wax, glue, solvents, fabric and leather.

It was around lunchtime and we were north, across the river and up 124th Street at its intersection with Stony Plain Road. Ann said there was a good pub in the vicinity but she couldn’t remember its name or where it was exactly. We did not find the joint. We continued west along Stony and I watched the reel of commercial signs degrade into payday loans, pawning, rent-to-own, used cars and second-hand vacuum cleaner sales.

We turned back south when we reached the abutting neighbourhoods of Jasper Place and Meadowlark. On 87th Avenue Ann pointed out the Flamingo Restaurant and Lounge, ‘I’ve eaten there.’ I said, ‘Let’s go. There’s parking.’ God help me, the laminated menu shone with possibilities, there were pizzas, calzones, perogies, souvlakia, donairs, submarines, hamburgers… As Ann once observed, ‘Every culture seems to have its signature sandwich or dumpling.’ Flamingo serves up a goodly selection of them at a reasonable price. I was in meat and dough Eden. I said, ‘We’ll have to return soon. I want to try at least half the items on the menu.’

Normally when Ann and I go for lunch we split a dish or forego the sides. Our appetites aren’t what they once were. This becomes problematic in a place like Flamingo because you’re tempted to try pretty much everything. I eventually settled on a donair because I’ve been trying to taste test every single one available in Edmonton. Ann had calzone stuffed with pepperoni and green pepper. Both of us had salad. We shared portions.

Our next chore was back on the south side, the cobbler and more intoxicating smells of wood, oil, polish, wax, glue, solvents, fabric and leather. I calculated that we were about an hour from home, so I thought I’d better try to use the men’s room as icky as it may be. Because I’d had a pint of Keith’s with my spicy meat and dough it suddenly became uncomfortably apparent that I’d no choice. I graciously excused myself to Ann. ‘I have to wash my hands.’ Splayed sticky fingers, ‘Sloppy donair.’

I bent and did the feet check in front of the stall. Empty, however the door was locked. There was no OUT OF ORDER sign. I wiggled and jiggled the bolt and latch. Nothing. I addressed myself in the mirror over the twin sinks, ‘Oh, crap.’ I was too embarrassed to approach any staff back in the restaurant. I briefly considered the ladies’ room but decided that since all of the other guests in the Flamingo were women older than me crossing the quaint gender boundary even in an emergency would just frame me as a masher. I studied the tile floor. The urinal was a few feet from the stall door and there were no shaken dick piss stains that I could see. I took a moment to breathe. I took another moment to pray that nobody else would enter the men’s room. I sat down on the floor with my back to the stall door and shim-sham-shimmied through the gap on my back.

In that instant I should have been imagining myself as any actor who ever played an Allied POW in a Nazi prison camp movie. Instead, I thought about my mother: There is a story in the family canon of her doing exactly the same thing because she did not have a dime for the pay toilet. After Ann and I got home and once I’d showered and changed my clothes, I phoned my mother to tell her what I’d done in Edmonton. Mom laughed. Mom said, ‘I’d forgotten. How do you know about that? Your father and I were in the bar of the Mount Royal Hotel.’

Fifty years between desperate actions. A fine hotel in Montreal’s days of post-war boom or a mundane family business in a strip mall on the west side of Alberta’s capital city, urgent dilemmas aren’t particular. They just run in the family. I am my mother’s son.

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