The bathroom was covered with graffiti.
The only things worth fighting for in this world are LOVE & FRIENDSHIP was written above the toilet. Immediately underneath: Wrong. You should never need to fight for love. And below, a third comment – this one in red: YOU are the fucking wrong one here, buddy. Love is a battlefield.
I washed my hands and checked my beard for signs of grey.
Outside, Toronto was only half awake. Fashionably dressed mannequins judged my plaid shirt and naturally faded blue jeans from behind glossy windows. In his car seat, a toddler pointed a gun at my head while we both patiently waited for the traffic lights to change colour.
I crossed Bloor Street and entered the lip of the park. It was the highpoint of autumn and resplendent trees stood proud as peacocks. The lush park was shaped like a crater and filled with sports facilities, a playground, and a swimming pool. I descended into its crater and sat down at a wooden picnic table.
My left leg started to vibrate.
The text messages read:
be there in 15 mins
can’t wait to kiss you
will you let me?
I squeezed the phone like a stress ball. Clare and I had met on Tinder a few months earlier. We had been two strangers who were now no longer strangers, not at all, not by any definition of the word.
Clare believed in fate. I believed that the world was a chaotic jumble of infinite possibility. Maybe believing in fate is just not my destiny, I said on our first date.
She was a dancer, originally from Scotland. I was from Montreal. We were both entrepreneurs. It hadn’t taken long for us to stumble on the subject of family. She said she had basically escaped hers and had no particular interest in having children. I loved my family and wanted my own – theoretically – one day. We shoved this topic to the back of our throats for as long as we could, until eventually I gagged.
We had broken up on the phone the night before. Then gotten back together a few minutes later.
Finally, we decided to meet at a park and talk in person.
I hadn’t slept. I stared at her texts.
be there in 15 mins
can’t wait to kiss you
will you let me?
I didn’t know.
There was a child-sized roar and I looked up from my phone. A pretty mother, about my age, was carrying her daughter over her shoulder. The girl was clutching a toy Tyrannosaurus rex and roaring with glee. Meanwhile, standing under a big tree, a group of middle-aged Chinese women were immersed in aerobics. Deeper into the park, two youth baseball teams were cheering on their teammates and kicking up clouds of dust.
I had five minutes to think.
Or, I could go online. I Googled the park’s name, Christie Pits, and discovered an article titled: “Christie Pits Riot.”
It was about a youth baseball game that took place in the park in 1933. One of the teams was Jewish. Near the end of the game, a few adults in the stands had unfurled a white sheet with a black swastika.
The next day, a Toronto Star reporter wrote:
Heads were opened, eyes blackened and bodies thumped and battered as persons young or old, many of them non-combatant spectators, were injured more or less seriously by a variety of ugly weapons in the hands of wild-eyed and irresponsible young hoodlums, both Jewish and Gentile. Italians joined in the fighting on the side of the Jews. An estimated 10,000 people were involved.
I looked up from my screen at the baseball diamond; the Nazis were gone. A Canadian flag, on a pole behind home plate, shrugged. The two baseball teams were enjoying popsicles at their benches. The Chinese aerobics class was replaced under the big tree by a young lesbian couple cuddling on a blanket. The Tyrannosaurus Rex toy lay abandoned on the path a few meters from my feet.
Isn’t the passage of time fascinating?
I thought of my grandma. I unlocked my iPhone, opened the voice memo app, found the right file, and pressed play. Her familiar voice filled the small speakers.
Joshie, let’s go set the Shabbos table.
Me: I want to record you telling the story of how you left Germany.
Grandma: Oh. Well. Okay. We left Berlin when I was twelve. The year was 1938. I never saw my pet parrot again. She might still be alive somewhere. She was very pretty.
Me: What made you leave?
Grandma: Oh, Joshie. The world was a different place back then. A man phoned our house at dinner. He begged my father to run for his life. He was a loyal Nazi, but also a family friend who had been to my parents’ wedding. He was doing my father a big favour, he said. My parents let me and my sister finish our dessert. I remember the jelly donuts. Then we went to the train station and boarded a train for Switzerland. Just before the train was set to depart the conductor yelled out our family name. It had never sounded so Jewish. WEISSLER. My father stood and the conductor came to fetch him, wearing a Swastika arm patch. He escorted my father off the train. Would you believe it; he apologized to my father for forgetting to issue a receipt for the tickets? The Nazis were efficient.
Two small girls ran over to my picnic bench. They were about three and five years old. Clearly sisters.
“Hey, want to see us dance?” asked the older one.
I pressed pause.
“Yes,” I said, “I do.”
A Filipino woman ran over. “I’m sorry, they bother you?”
“Not at all,” I said, and turned to the girls. “Let’s see your dance moves!”
The sisters giggled and started to move about.
“Dum dum dee dum,” sang the girls, each humming different tunes.
“Very good,” I said. “But can you do this?”
I climbed on to the table and started flapping my elbows up and down.
“That’s not dancing!” they yelled.
“What am I doing, then?”
“You’re being a chicken!” squealed the younger one. They both laughed.
“Can you guys do a better chicken than me?”
The girls started clucking and flapping about the grass.
In the distance, on the other end of Christie Pits Park, I spotted Clare walking towards us. She was waving. I waved back from my perch on the battlefield.