It was a sparkling Spring day in Toronto and we decided to eat outside.
Such a glorious transition. Shortly before that you could not even go outside. I mean, you could, but who wanted to? Okay, maybe some people wanted to – (WITH WITHERING DISDAIN)… “Winter Sports” enthusiasts – but not me. For the Canadian winter months – October to May – I did my utmost to remain indoors, waiting for Spring or a rescuing job offer from Hollywood, whichever came first.
That year, it was Spring.
I was then working primarily in the CBC Radio Building located on… Where was it?... I’ll get it… Although it may take a moment…
Anyway, directly across the street from the Radio Building, there was a Four Seasons Hotel – except that this building was kind of squat and spread out, more like a Four Seasons Mo-tel.
The proximate Four Seasons boasted an outdoor eatery, available – understandably – only “seasonally.” Nobody wants to eat lunch wearing a parka, mittens and a scarf, their galoshes-encased feet wallowing in slush. Though that would make an interesting tableau:
“Lunching ‘Al Fresco’ in February.”
What artist could resist such a challenge?
“Ah, oui. A welcome addition to my ‘Ridiculous’ portfolio. The frustrated diner in the corner whose pea soup has frozen solid – a truly imaginative touch.”
We came out of the building into the welcoming…
The Radio Building. It was on Jarvis Street. I knew I’d get it. It’s all in there. You just have to work your way through the debris.
We jaywalked our way across Jarvis Street – after you get it, it’s feels good to repeat it a lot – and, having pre-booked a table, we were ushered immediately to our seats.
The restaurant was packed. It’s a celebration, after all – Torontonians’ first outdoor dining experience since Labour Day. (That “u’” is for you guys.) Observant Jews in the crowd offered the traditional prayer of thanksgiving, that God has kept them alive and healthy and has brought them to that day. The non-believers were undoubtedly elated as well. They simply lacked the appropriate outlet.
Recognizing our release from hibernation, the Four Seasons had gone “whole hog” on a “Full-On” Caribbean-themed luncheon – the waiters dressed in festive, flower-print shirts, there were rum-laced drinks topped by miniature umbrellas, and the lunchtime “Specials” featured authentic Jamaican cuisine – “Jerk” this and “Jerk” whatever.
I stuck with the hamburger. But with an eagerly anticipated “side” of “Fresh Fruit.” You do not see a lot of fresh fruit in Toronto in the winter, a banana that has lost its way, but that’s it. We make it through on tinned peaches in a hyper-sugary syrup making your teeth wonder whose side you are actually on.
One final touch:
The provided entertainment.
Beyond Elwood Glover’s Luncheon Date, a longtime, local interview show, broadcast “On Location” from the Four Seasons Hotel lobby, starring a man… I mean, Elwood Glover – does that name say, “hard hitting” to you? If I could imagine a gentle, Protestant minister moonlighting as a television talk-show interviewer… which I can’t, because I don’t know any Protestant ministers. Still, I am guessing I am not far afield.
The lunch’s theme-related entertainment hotel involved a suitably attired Jamaican troubadour, brightening the room with his spirited music and irresistible smile.
So there we are: Lunching outdoors, accompanied by glistening sunshine, fresh fruit side dishes, and Caribbean melodies.
Paraphrasing Field of Dreams:
“Is this heaven?”
“No, it’s Toronto, after you pack away your long underwear and store the storm windows in the garage.”
I heave an appreciative sigh of Vernal satisfaction, my mind meandering to the subliminal background music under the lunchtime chatter.
The “Jamaican Troubadour” tradition is not entirely alien to me. I recall a likable songster appearing regularly on The Mike Douglas Show. His refreshing act involves singing this chorus, that begins, “Luva luva luva lo…” and then improvising rhyming verses based on ideas suggested by the audience. A charmingly likable performance: Funny. Harmless. All in Caribbean “good fun.”
I begin paying attention to the lyrics, interested in what this smiling Jamaican songster was warbling after inevitably “covering” the Harry Belafonte oeuvre. (“Down dee way where dee nights are gay…”) And to my startled horror and dismay, to this identifiable Caribbean beat, I hear this:
“And he took it… out
And he put it… in
And he moved it around
With a happy grin…”
I’m eating lunch here!
There are children on the premises!
Elwood Glover is just down the hall!
I look around for a reaction…
Everyone’s tapping their toes.
Nobody else seems to be listening. But for me…
The man’s selected material seriously altered the ambiance.
That is exactly what happened.
The first legitimate day of Spring…
Marred by a Jamaican folksinger with other thoughts unmistakably on his mind.
Why am I telling this story in December?
They come to me. I write ‘em.