I just found this amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing your writing talents with us. I am certainly looking forward to more.
My posts are simply my opinion, understanding and perceptions. Nothing more, nothing less so please don't get offended if mine sometimes differs from yours. It's what makes us unique and all valuable as a group.
In the car on the way home, I stopped at one of the Chinese markets on Yonge Street. The Songs had been running this market ever since they had come from Hong Kong in the early 1980s. Their daughter Chun had been at school with me. A very pretty girl with many boyfriends, but who had yet to marry, her family nickname was Dai-tai or “leading boys in hopes”. Dai-tai was in the store.
I also handed her a large plain brown box. She smiled and handed me an envelope with a small bow. I accepted with a deeper bow to her and her parents. The Songs and I shared a secret. I was their secret maker of fortune cookies. They felt it would be a great scandal if it was known that a non-Chinese person was making their cookies, so we kept it quiet. But two or three times a month I would get an order for an event or a wedding. The key was that the client had the fun of making-up the fortunes and I would then copy them and place them in the cookies. It was a giggle and brought in a bit more money.
They also gave me a large bag with BBQ pork in it.
“We make yesterday. You put in jars and save.”Mrs. Song told me. “We close store. So you chose what you want. I give you good price.”
Mrs. Song had an excellent supplier and her vegetables were beautiful. So while Mr. Song and Dai-tai’s latest boyfriend were putting up plywood over the store windows, they had already taken down the acrylic signs above the door and removed the light bulbs behind them, I got more asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, gorgeous fresh green beans, and edamame. We eat a lot of those boiled and lightly salted. Zeb loves them. I got a half-dozen jars of black bean sauce, and also got four frozen ducks. Mrs. Song charged me $20. I just about fell over but I thanked her and had to shove it all under Zeb’s feet.
In the car, I listened as the talking heads avoided all talk about the power outage. Actually they weren't giving much news at all. I heard all about the latest goings on of George Clooney and his lawyer wife – did she really think that the British would hand the Elgin Marbles back to Greece? I heard about Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie and their happy family. I heard about some Amanda somebody having a break down and that naked photos of some celebrity had been posted on-line. I heard a lot about nothing but I heard nothing of substance. The whys of the power being out were not even being speculated about. I'll admit that the hickey feeling was beginning to grow.
When we got home, I left Zeb asleep in the car where it was lovely and cool and went and got my plastic bins from the storage room. I transferred all the food into the bins and loaded them onto the hand cart. Tucked in the bins my purchases were out of sight of inquisitive eyes. As I move laundry the same way, no one even notices any more. I then put sleepy Zeb in the back pack and lifted him back on. Took a bit of wrangling but I got us all up to the apartment.
Did I tell you that I’m tired? I have all this produce and meat sitting on the counter in my warm apartment and I have to deal with it NOW and all I want is a nap. Zeb is of course awake, refreshed and raring to go. One of the teenagers, Chantelle, is in the court yard and she is happy to take my squirmy hot babe and pop him into the Mr. Turtle pool to splash about.
I start the beef broth cooking, laid out the jars, got the lids going in their pot and began to cut up the beef. The beef was then browned and put in the quart jars. I then filled the jars with beef broth, wiped the rims and put on the lids and rings. The beef was brought up to pressure, and canned at 10-lbs pressure for 90 minutes. When the time is up, I turn off the heat under the canner, and let the pressure gauge fall to zero. It normally takes about 10 minutes but with all the August heat, its taking longer.
While the canner does its thing, I pack the rest of the quarts – there will be 21 in total – with stewing beef. I also prepared the BBQ pork. I mixed 2 jars of Mrs. Song’s special BBQ sauce with 2-cups of beef broth. I pulled the pork apart and stuffed it into the quart jars. I then filled the jars with the BBQ sauce-beef broth mix, wiped the rims and put on the lids and rings. Another 14 jars to process… I needed a second canner. I was fairly certain that Mrs. Orlandini had one. So I asked Chantelle to take a note up to her. I stuffed Zeb into his highchair and he happily ate BBQ pork, cherry tomato pieces, and cold noodles for his dinner. While I worked the frozen veg kept the rest of the meat cold.
When Chantelle returned with the canner, I was able to get the next load of beef going. It was going to be a long night. But with each load the came out, I hummed Henri’s tuneless song.
It must have been pretty close to 3am, when I put the last batch of chicken into the canner. After that there would be nothing that would go off if it waited. I turned and with a start saw John in my fire escape door. I’ll admit I started. His presence was wholly unexpected… but not unwelcome.
“You have got to go to bed,” he said. “You’ve been at this for hours.”
“Well, if I don’t do it, I’ll lose it.” I told him. “This should be done in about half an hour. Then I can go to bed… Come talk to me an keep me awake. Any sign of the power?”
He pulled out a chair across the table from me. Turned it around as guys are want to do and sat down.
“None,” he said. “Even worse the police are saying that they can’t get any answers as to why it is out. But I did learn that it is more than just the City that’s out. It seems that there are rolling blackouts in a lot of places.”
“Well it’s not rolling here,” I said. “It’s just out.”
“We might start to get rolling here tomorrow. At least that was the rumour.” John told me, and then asked: “What did you think of the CostCo setup?”
“Good and if the office is closed, I am going back tomorrow,” I told him.
“Why?” he asked. “Based on what I see here you should be good for a couple of months while they sort this out.”
“John, I’m tired. So I am not going to sugar coat this.” I said. “I don’t think they will sort this out. It’s August and even if we do get approval to put gardens in across the street, it will be a year before they are producing anything. That’s a long time to be hungry. I have a child to keep alive and growing so I am aiming for a year plus.
“You’ve got to wake up fast John. You don’t have much time. Go talk to Eric. I’ll bet he has at least a year’s supplies put away. You have two kids. Is their mother likely to dump them on you if times get tough? If she is, then you need food for 3 people for a year plus extra. Now go home and think about it. If you want to talk tomorrow then we’ll talk, but I am too tired now.”
He stood and looked at me. “Are you really serious?” he asked quietly.
“Yes,” I said. I put my head down on the table and closed my eyes.
There are lots of recipes, some use lemon, or orange, or almond extract. But the basic recipe uses vanilla extract. I use artificial clear vanilla extract because it doesn’t darken the cookies.
Fortune Cookies makes a dozen
I egg white
1/8 tsp clear vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
¼ cup unbleached flour
¼ cup white sugar
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a cookie sheet. Write fortunes on strips of paper about 4 inches long and 1/2 inch wide. Generously grease 2 cookie sheets. Mix the egg white and vanilla until foamy but not stiff. Sift the flour, salt, and sugar and blend into the egg white mixture. Place a teaspoonful of the batter at least 4 inches apart on one of the prepared cookie sheets. Tilt the sheet to move the batter into round shapes about 3 inches in diameter. Be careful to make batter as round and even as possible. Do not make too many, because the cookie have to be really hot to form them and once they cool it is too late. So start with 2 or 3 to a sheet and see how many you can do. Bake for 5 minutes or until cookie has turned a golden color 1/2 inch wide around the outer edge of the circle. (Make sure its golden or the whole thing will be a spongy pancake.) The center will remain pale. While one sheet is baking, prepare the other. When they are ready, remove from the oven and quickly move a cookie with a wide spatula and place upside down on a wooden board. Quickly place the fortune on the cookie, close to the middle and fold the cookie in half. Place the folded edge across the rim of a measuring cup and pull the pointed edges down, one on the inside of the cup and one on the outside. Place folded cookies into the cups of a muffin tin to hold their shape until firm.
I woke up at 6am to the blare of a radio. My brain was bleary on only 3-hours sleep. Radio?! I hadn’t realized how quiet it was with the power off.
“The power is on?!?” I yelped and ran for the shower. It was cold… perhaps I should have waited for the boilers to get going but I was so pleased to have running water that I tolerated the cool… okay cold water. By the time I’d washed my hair and the rest of me, the water was warming up and I was awake. I then scrubbed out the bathtub really well and refilled it. I also filled every pot and every bucket I had. The fridge and freezer were humming away.
I made a quick batch of biscuits and got the canners ready for the next load. I had 6 x 5-lbs bags of edamame that had defrosted overnight. I had another 10-lbs that needed to be shelled, that I had got at the Songs. Each pint holds about 2-lbs of beans. So I had 45-lbs of beans that would give me 22pints of beans and a pound left over… breakfast for Zeb and I. They canned at 10-lbs of pressure for 40 minutes.
Once they were on, I went on line and checked my email account. As expected it was full. Friends from all over the place were talking about the rolling black-outs. The blackouts were North America wide. The heat had taken consumption levels way over the threshold. Looking at the where my friends were located and who had blackouts compared to power outages, I realized something really fast. Canada was almost completely in the dark, but not so our neighbours to the south. What the media was not reporting was that the flow of power south was almost uninterrupted while the flow of power north had ceased. Only Newfoundland & Labrador and the eastern parts of Quebec had uninterrupted power from the Churchill Falls. The rest of Quebec should have been fine with James Bay but that power seemed to be flowing straight south. Niagara Falls (Canada) was completely in the dark and Canadian operators at the Falls had been shut out. There was a lot of diplomatic wrangling going on, but essentially it was all talk on our part and a deafening silence from Washington.
So the Canadian hydro operators were busy uncoupling their systems from the US to keep the power we produced, and turning the taps off on the oil pipelines. So far there was small scale power in communities around the province that had their own dams, but for places like the City, which had none, there was little they could do to provide continuous power. So they seemed to be trying to do 2-hours of power around the city. To give everyone a little bit. This of course did nothing but infuriate people.
Back-up generators were giving life to a small sector of the business world – hospitals, police stations, City Hall and gas stations for official vehicles and public transport. Buried in amongst my emails was one from the doctor who ran the doctor’s group I worked for. The office was closed until further notice. I was advised that if I wanted anything – and this was stressed and underlined – from the practice, I was to take this note and go and get it. It was my severance pay.
Bells went off. This would be how we could furnish a clinic here in the building. Chantelle was out in the courtyard and I asked her if she could get Eric and John for me. I made coffee for them. Both men arrived dressed for their respective days. Eric was headed downtown for the hearing to present our case for having the land turned into community gardens. John would accompany him. I told him about the gift from my former employer. They read the printout of the email and agreed to meet me at the office at 1pm. Eric also advised me that the landlord had agreed to the clinic and that I could have the one bedroom apartment that mirrored my unit on the opposite side of the court yard. He said that the landlord had also decided not to proceed with the conversion of the boiler from electric heat to the pellet stove at this time. There was also to be an immediate 20% reduction in rent as hydro was included and obviously it could not be guaranteed. Any tenants wanting to vacate could do so with no penalty. And finally the land lord was willing to let the doctor take a 3-bedroom unit with the price of the another 2-bedroom (inc. 1 bath and kitchen) apartment, opposite the apartment I had for the nurse practioner’s office. He could use the 2nd apartment as his doctor’s office. So long as he provided services to the building, the unit would be included in his rent of $1200/month. It was a fantastic deal.
So first things first, while I still had power, I fired a letter off to Dr. Lucca Collodi and his wife Emilia. A first generation Italian from the Tuscany region, he had gone back to see his grandparents in Chianni and met his Emilia there visiting her grandparents. It had been a grand romance and they had married there in the summer of 1990 just after he had completed his residency. They had six children, but only the youngest four were still at home. The first two were twins Antonio and Maria, who were finishing up the final year of high school in Switzerland and regularly escaping south across the border to visit the extended family in Chianni. There were only 900 residents in the small town south of Pisa, but many of them were family. The four younger ones Lucia (15), Rodolpho (14), Amalie (12) and Salvatore (10) were all home schooled and fluent in English and Italian. They were nice kids and I had met them all at a foraging class that had been run along the upper reaches of the Don River. We had clicked and discovered a lot of things in common. When Trevor had stolen everything, Emilia was one of the first people to appear with a box of Kleenex and a big tub of chocolate ice cream.
I also told them of the offer from the practice that I had been with. I was surprised to receive an almost immediate response.
“Want to see premises today. If okay want to move in immediately. Have Tony and Maria with us. Take everything you can from former office, esp medical texts, drug books and equipement. Will bring big truck over if you want to use.”
I replied: “Meeting at office at 1pm. Bring truck and muscles.”
Almost immediately after I hit send the power went down. I looked at my wrist watch. Bang on 8am. The edamame were ready to come out of the now cooled canner and I carefully took the pint jars out and put them on the counter covered by a towel. I took the next load of pint jars and put them in and got them going. Once the pressure was up to 10-lbs, Zeb and I dashed across to what would soon be my new clinic. Other than needing a paint job it was clean and ready to move into. I breathed a sigh of relief. I locked up and dashed back across the courtyard to check the gauge on the canner.
There was a man standing in my kitchen. A completely unknown man…
Lots of laughs DIMDAL and Kaij! But your 9:45pm makes it 1:15am for me...
In the millisecond I had before he turned to face me I took in that he was dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, hiking boots and had a large backpack. As he turned to face me, I saw that he was an attractive man in his late twenties with an open face that showed signs of deep exhaustion. I still didn't know him
“Do you normally walk into people’s homes uninvited?” I asked.
“Mrs. Orlandini told me to wait in your kitchen. You are Hey-There-Charlie-Girl aren’t you?” he asked.
“Yes. And you are?”
“Oh… sorry… I’m Mike-on-College. Mike Carter. Can I sit down?” he asked
Mike was one of the on-line posters with whom I’d been talking for several years. I knew him well in the way that you know your on-line friends. I know about the break-down of his marriage but not the colour of his eyes. I know about the contents of his pantry and his frustration with his sister but not his home address, although I had inferred from his handle that he lived downtown on College Street. Some time ago a core group of us had moved off the main boards and organized ourselves as an emergency support system. We were a MAG in term of providing mutual assistance, but it was informal and one-on-one assistance, not a group effort.
“What happened?” I asked.
“You been downtown?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “I never go downtown, except maybe once a year to go to the Museum or Roy Thompson Hall to hear the Mendelssohn Choir sing the Messiah. Otherwise my life is here and north. What’s happened? There is nothing on the news.”
“Parts of the downtown core burned yesterday,” he said. “It seems that the looting began at the Eaton Centre yesterday morning and moved out. It appears to have been organized. Groups moved in with transport trucks and cleared whole stores. The groups were well armed and the police held back and did surveillance. By the time the groups got to the Canadian Tire at Bay and Dundas, they found that the store had already been largely emptied and that there was no staff on site. They were furious and firebombed the store… which of course set the rest of the Eaton Centre on fire and the fire spread through the unground concourse level and soon there were fires springing up all over the place. That’s how it got into my building. My apartment was on the 2nd floor and I saw the other building going up in flames, I looked around at my preps and wanted to cry, but I wasn’t going to die for them. I hit the self-destruct code in my computer, grabbed my go-back and got out …”
As he talked, I had closed the screen door and put Zeb down beside his basket of toys. He gleefully directed his cars around him and I started to make Mike some breakfast.
“…I was lucky there was a bus right there heading up Bay Street and I was able to get on. The driver was headed north and he told me he wasn’t stopping anymore and wouldn’t have stopped for me except for the backpack. He said at least I knew to get out. He took me as far at the Davenport Bus Terminal and told me to keep going north and get out of town. He said all buses were returning to their terminals, so not to bother getting on one. So I stated up Bathurst Street. I kept thinking as I hiked up Bathurst that this cliff was the remains of the shoreline of the ancient Lake Iroquois. When you get to the top you can appreciate just how big the lake was. I should have been able to see Lake Ontario but the smoke rising from the burning fires obscured the view. I remember thinking that I will never be back… that I had taken my last look at the City.
“I was able to get rides here and there. Since getting out of town is all up hill, every ride was appreciated. I reached the 701 by ten o’clock last night, except there was a problem. There are barricades going up to prevent people from coming off the highways and to force those coming south or north to turn around. You know how we had discussed this, well it’s true. I had gone north up Bathurst and at St. Clair West I had turned east and walked over to Avenue Road. I had gone north there and then up Oriole Parkway. I wanted to parallel Yonge Street without being on it. It was easy to do until I reached McNairn Avenue. Then I had a bright idea. I was able to get into the Loblaws grocery store and get some more food for dinner. When I came out there was a cabbie there. He agreed to drive me down to the hill to the Auberge du Pommier just north of York Mills. Now it was barely a mile, but it was a steep downhill and half way up the next hill, and I was tired. The key to this spot was the Don Valley Gold Course. I was able to slip through the golf course, over the fence and then appear at the north side of the checkpoint, where the reservists promptly sent me north up Yonge Street. It’s a lot tidier north of the 401. Of course it’s an increasingly Oriental neighbourhood and they don’t tolerate very much. I was given an escort through that stretch and then turned loose again and told not to come back.”
I put the food in front of him and he ate like a starving man. I went to my bedroom and put anything personal in my office closet and locked it. I changed the bed and then going back to the kitchen told Mike to go and crash and get some sleep.
Meanwhile I put another load of veg into the canner. Corn this time. I had 40-lbs of corn which would make up 18 pints. Now if I had taken them off the cob, I’d have had to blanch them, so they would have been raw packed. But because they had been frozen, I hot packed them by pouring boiling water into each jar and adding a ¼ tsp of salt for flavour. I then brought the pressure up to 10-lbs and set the timer for 55-minutes. If I had been canning quarts it would have still been 10-lbs of pressure but for 1-hour and 25-minutes.
About 11:30am John and Eric came through the door arms high.
“Success!!!” they shouted. Eric picked up Zeb and danced around with him while John grabbed and planted a big kiss on me.
“The City agreed!” John said hugging me. He suddenly seemed to realize what he had done and got all red and apologetic. Eric and I just laughed.
Then John spotted Mike’s bag and boots, so obviously not mine, and his eyes got hot.
“A friend’s,” I said. “He walked out of the downtown yesterday. He’s asleep right now. Any chance one of the furnished rooms is available. I don’t want him thinking he can move in here.”
John’s ruffled feathers smoothed immediately and Eric relaxed too. “Yeah… we’ve got a couple available if he has the money.”
“Thanks!,” I said. “Now tell me how the meeting went?”
“Well it was both easier and harder than I expected,” said Eric. “And mostly harder because I had to rearrange my preconceptions… You know the railway rider Tiny? The one who said he’d help us with the DOT application?”
I nodded yes.
“Well he arrived at the hearing room shortly after we did. I nodded at him because he looked familiar but I couldn’t place him… Showered, shaved and dressed in a good Italian suit, he could have been any large man. Anyways when the man who was conduction the hearing, what was his title?” he asked John.
“The Chairman of the Committee of Adjustments,” replied John
“Right… the City Planner laid out the plan to the Committee of Adjustment and the Committee Chairman asked if there were any comments from the community. So at that point, John and I stood up and introduced ourselves. We had the application for Zoning Variation completed, the list of tenants and neighbours, and the petition you had put together. We laid it out to the. The City Planner was really interested and he thought it was a great idea. The Committee on the whole thought it was a good usage of land. Although, they did have a couple of concerns…” said Eric.
“And that’s when Tiny stood up… could have blown us both away… turns out his real name is Peter Smith and that he used to be No.3 in the City’s department of transportation until his daughter died and he walked out of his life. So he then stood up and most of the Committee knew him as did the Planner and they were all chatty for few minutes. He then explained that pending approval from the Committee the City’s Department of Transportation was prepared to make the driveway of the apartment building into a private road and to complete building the sound proofing along Cooper Road. He then gestured to the small woman beside him, who was with the Provincial Department of Transportation, and she advised that pending approval, the Province would be closing the exit on and off Hwy 305 and putting up sound barriers. With that done, Tiny had said, the City would then be making Poplar Plains Road a private road. The City then advised that they would also be demolishing the factory across Cooper Street from us. They were going to leave the walls and gates up, but would we also be interested in managing any gardens in there. That would double our space from 4 acres to 9 acres. I said that I would have to bring it back for discussion but that it would likely be a go. I have to advise them by email as soon as the power goes on.”
They looked at me expectantly and I’m sure I looked bug eyed.
“They went for it?” I asked. “I mean all of them approved and they offered across Cooper too? But why?”
“Well it turns out there was a recommendation on file from the Garden Resource Program (GRP) and also a request from them to turn the Brickworks, which is also scheduled for demolition and clean-up this month, and also for the abandoned factory behind the Mews, to be turned into communal gardens for the Coopertown Community. That would give each group 9 to 10 acres, with the possibility for more if we can prove usage.”
I sat down kind of hard as the timer went off.
“Can you turn off the gas under the canners,” I asked John. I shook my head to clear it. I have to admit for all the I had put these plans in motion; I had not really expected them to fly. “When do they start?”
“Well given that there were no objections and that the last of the tenants is out tomorrow. Power and water will be turned off Thursday. The Habitat for Humanity people will be in Thursday & Friday to reclaim as much as they can and the demolition team will be here Friday for the houses and Monday for the apartment building. They will remove the cellars and all asphalt and bring in clean fill to level out the lots. They have also given us permission to gate the property. They were going to pull the public restroom from the park but I have convinced them that for the health and well-being of the transients, that it needed to stay. They are also going to install taps like the one at the park at each of the lots and the central one at the apartment lot.
“The other thing is that they did bring up the fact that in this experiment that we would be permitted to have farm animals, provided that they were heritage breeds. So you can do your chickens and pigs.”
“I could dance!” I exclaimed. “I know where I can get Tamworth sows and a Berkshire boar and there is a woman in Meaford that sells White Chantecler Chickens. They are a dual purpose meat/egg chicken. Getting the in place before everything heads south is a priority. Perhaps we could set Mike the job of going to collect them… Hmmmm… have to think about that… Okay. Let me make us all some lunch.”
I quickly stuffed some of the remaining BBQ pork into the biscuits I had made earlier. Zeb munched about with it but ate it all. John and Eric had four each and I ate three. I got Mike up and handed him a lunch bag. The men eyed each other and shook hands finally. Mrs. Moretti arrived to look after Zeb while we went to the doctor’s office.
Eric took his van – Mike went with him to discuss the room. John rode with me in the Jeep. We arrived at the office to find Lucca & Emilia and their children and a very large truck.
There were handshakes all around and I went with Eric to present the property manager with the copy of the email he had been sent earlier. The property manager had already removed the clinic’s name and signage from the ground floor suite as a safety measure to reduce damage. The windows had been boarded-up and already graffiti and tags were starting to appear on it. An off-site medical file storage company had already been in earlier in the day and carted off the patient files, and a note from the file clerk indicated that she had removed and set aside all the patient files that I had flagged. They were all residents of Poplar Plains or of Coopertown.
I set the kids up with a large plastic bin in each of the patient rooms and had them strip it every loose item from the room. We took the six examining tables and the chairs and the waiting room benches, toys and magazines. We took the computers and filing cabinets, all the forms and envelopes, all the specimen bottles. All the medical texts, images of internal organs and the scale models… They were put in bins and rolled up. In one of the doctor’s offices, we found all his books from medical school. In another, I found three huge bags full of condoms – he used to hand them out to the teenagers like candy telling them that if they couldn’t abstain they should at least be careful. Another had a medical school skeleton in the corner. It wore a top hat and bowtie and a cigar wired between its teeth. The doctor called him Churchill. The fourth doctor had an unusual amount of medical samples of all sorts in tubs in his office closet. I wasn’t sure what to think of that but Lucca was pleased with the haul, so I left him to it.
When we started too load, Mike went and stood guard. There were a few people who were beginning to show signs of interest in what was coming out. John advanced on them with his badge out. “Seizure for unpaid equipment... Can you tell me where the doctors who ran this clinic lived?” People scattered and vanished into buildings. It simply didn’t pay to have too much notice taken of you.
Eric sighed with relief as we got the last of the bins into the van. As we had been loading, I noted that the truck had already been more than half-full. I had seen Lucca and Eric talking quietly.
“We take the apartment sight unseen,” Emilia told me. “There were eight home invasions and 3 fires on our section of Edgar Avenue last night. This morning there was a sign nailed to our door saying The 1% will pay. Your bill is due today. We were so scared. Lucca had been on a 24-hour rotation at the hospital. He arrived home with this truck and five men from the hospital’s maintenance crew. We took our clothes, linens, beds, the kids’ toys and books, the contents of the kitchen and pantry, a few special antiques, la famiglia furniture… I bring my recipes, the photo albums, the sewing machine does not require power, and all the special things my grandmother gives me from her house… Lucca, he pulls is hair out, but these things do not need power.”
I get her and the kids into her car and the rest pile into the different vehicles and we get out of there. As we were leaving there was a giant explosion just to the east of us. We kept going west. I looked at John.
“What do you figure that was?” I asked.
“I figure that it was the propane tank at the gas Station at Bayview and the 701. If the tank blew it also it would have also blown the gas tanks at the station, and possibly the west bound lands of the 701. I think it’s time to get home and stay there for a while. I also think that once unloaded, we should use the truck to block anyone exiting off the 705 and perhaps move something in front of the Cooper Street driveway. Won’t stop the really determined but it will cut off road access and perhaps reduce any nonsense tonight. I’ll call Father Andrea and suggest that the Cooperstown folks do likewise. I’ll also call the police and fire departments and advise that we are setting up preventative blockades for the night time hours. Now when everyone gets settled, you and I need to talk about me getting with the program.”
When we pulled into the roundabout in front of the apartment building. There were three rather grubby children sitting on the wall surrounded by suitcases and boxes. John was out of the car so fast you’d have thought it was on fire, but when I saw him hugging the children and Eric getting in the act too, the light dawned for me. Got to hate it when predictions come true...
“Charlie, come meet my children,” said John with obvious pride. “Jack is 16. Matt and Cara are 14.”
While Matt and Cara shook hands with me, Jack however never even saw me. Luccia had just got out of her parents car and Jack was completely distracted. Luccia was every inch her mother’s daughter.
I have to tell you that I was tired… really, really tired. All I wanted to do was sleep, but of course the first things that had to be unloaded were all the items from the clinic. The fathers, bored without TV, were rousted from the court yard and lobby to help carry.
Did I tell you about the lobby? It is really special… a leftover from when the building was fancy. In a building full of neat architectural things, like incredible tiles and cement molded angels supporting the oriel windows, this was a favourite space. The light through the windows was incredible and the high ceiling, painted with the signs of the zodiac, glowed in rich tones.* There was a fireplace at one end and there was antique furniture scattered around (actually bolted through the floor to the garage to prevent theft) had been bought when the furniture had been auctioned off from Casa Loma** when its builder went bancrupt. At one end was a very impressive desk that had the big screen TV on top of it. There was a movable feast of mismatched couches and lazy-boy arm chairs scattered around. The little old ladies kept a firm eye on the space and I had seen one man, passed out on the couch, lifted by his ear and made to clean up the mess of beer bottles and popcorn. You came into the space in the center of the north wall. There was an air lock with one outside door and two inside doors. Once inside the space was about 60 feet long by 30 feet wide with a massive central pillar. Directly opposite the front doors was a pair of five steep steps each up to a single glass door that opened onto the courtyard. One either side of the doors were these massive leaded windows that poured light into the space and under them were huge radiators covered with pierced tiles that kept the space warm in the winter despite the 25-foot painted ceilings. On either side of the room were stairs that lead to 10-ft wide balconies – more incredible iron work where there was one elevator on each side that served that side of the building. On the east side was where the little old ladies managed the phone and monitored the universe. They also met there regularly with Father Andrea who would walk over from Holy Rosary in Cooperstown to check on their individual spiritual health and say the rosary with them.
So the fathers cleared the path and started carrying all the items into the clinic space. Within ten minutes everything was in and the doors shut and locked. The while the fathers took a break, the Collodi family went and looked at the three bedroom apartment. More accurately it was a two bedroom apartment with a kitchen, 2 bathrooms, a living room, dining room and a maid’s room. So the three boys took one bedroom and the three girls the other. Luca and Emilia debated it and then made the dining room into their bedroom. The maid’s room became their pantry and the large living room with its big fireplace became their living space. The hallway down the center of the apartment was 10-feet wide in its own right and Emilia put the school tables and book cases there. Within three hours it looked great and Emilia had the pot on for dinner.
They offered to feed me, which was kind, but I needed to spend some time with Zeb and I really wanted to go to bed. Which is why, when John and his kids appeared at the door, I was ready to cry. When he told me that they had brought dinner, I gave up and invited them in. The kids loved Zeb and were great playing with him while we got the table set.
“I really wanted you to hear what the kids had to say about the past couple of days. Their mother and her boyfriend had an apartment in a house just off Queen Street, north west of Bathurst,” said John.
“We went to Central Tech. Matt and I are going into grade 10 and Jack is going into Grade 11. The school is pretty segregated by ethnicity, language and stream, Jack and I are in the academic stream and Matt is in the applied technology stream. He’s an engine wizard. He can listen to an engine and know what to tweak or fix to make it work right. It’s so cool. But it also means he has a totally different group of friends. That’s good cause it gave us ears in different places,” said Cara.
“What Cara is trying to say,” said Matt, “is that I got this text from this guy Jamal. I save his…[John coughed] …okay, I saved his keester when he came close to flunking out. He is great with cars but his methods are strictly hotwire and chop, he can’t seem to switch to repair and resell. Anyways this morning about 10am, he texts me and said that the Swarm is moving out three hours and they aim to replenish the stock and I am to get Cara out fast. Now the Swarm is both the name and the method of the gang he runs with. Replenish means they are looking for girls to replace those they can’t sell any more… and take anything else they want.
“Now me and Mom can’t see eye to eye on anything but Martin, her boyfriend, is no idiot. So I tell him about the text. Next thing I know he’s got us loading boxes, filling the van and Mom’s truck and within an hour the apartment is bare. We then head north and we get to the road block on Yonge Street and Mom gets out and tells the police man that she is court ordered to deliver us to Dad today or she loses custody. First we had heard of it but it does the trick and we are let through. Now we face the Traid’s blockade to get through Little Asia. This one I handled. I pulled out my phone and showed the guy the text from Jamal. Turns out they have a few guys in that neighbourhood too and so they are lighting up their phones to get them out. They let us through…”
Matt slows down and Jack picks up the story. “So we get here and suddenly our boxes and bags are on the walkway. Martin looks at us and says. ‘You’ll be staying with your father. Can take one person to the hunting camp and your mother wants to come. So say goodbye nicely. Your father fought hard to get you, so he’s getting his wish. You are wanted here.’ The implication was of course that we were not wanted there or by her, but we knew that. She only wanted a bigger cheque. You know we had say good by through the window. She never got out of that f-car to even hug us. We were there about five minutes when you all arrived. You have no idea how good it felt to have dad race across to hug us and to see his excitement at seeing us. We know where we are wanted. Now can you tell me who that girl was?”
It took me a minute to digest all of what had been said. That neighbourhood was full of big socialist lefty artist types and not a single one of them was likely to be prepared for what they were going through and there was nothing I could do at this point to help any of them. So I tucked that sadness away in its own compartment and laid it at the foot of the cross. I turned to the kids and said:
“Well Martin was right. Your Dad has talked about you all from almost the first time I met him and if he had to stack you all like cordwood in the bath tub, he’d find a way to keep you. Did Eric move you into a bigger unit? [John nodded] Okay good, then the first thing we need to do tomorrow is go food shopping. Then we’ll go to the Sally Ann and get anything you are missing. Tonight you need to organize the lists. Jack do you drive? [He nodded.] Good then you’ll take one of my cars, I’ll take one and your father will take one. That will allow for 3 separate transactions. Meet me down here for coffee at 7:30am. We want to be at the CostCo by 8:00am. Now with apologies, I need to sleep. I didn’t get down until after 3:30am and I was up at 6am, so I’m beat. … Oh and here is a sample shopping list.
“As for the girl, Jack... Her name is Luccia Collodi. She is 15-years old and her father is old school Italian. She’s one you court and marry, not one you date.”
They headed out the door and I just left the rinsed dishes in the sink. I never leave food out because otherwise it turns into cockroach city really fast.
John turned as they went out the door. He gave me a smile and a quick kiss.
“Pretty neat kids aren’t they?!” he said with a smile.
“Yes,” I said.
*The Apartment Lobby - https://annivymale.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/1695/ This is a wonderful old art deco building in downtown Toronto. I have plucked it from its original setting and used it in this story. The apartment layouts do apply to the building, except that you can get bachelor, one, two, three and four bedroom units starting at an eye watering $1050/month for the bachelor. If you want more information google “One Clarendon Avenue, Toronto”
** Casa Loma - http://www.casaloma.org/
Well its 9:50pm out here on the Rock! A fine night for October (we had snow on the ground this time last year). Instead of writing about Charlie & Co, I have spent the last 48-hours sewing a Halloween costume for my small beardless dwarf/Hobbit and the tonight was the frenzy, nay gluttonous orgy of candy seeking. Apparently from looking at the haul, this is the year of the chips. There were also very few children around this year in the area we went to (no other kids up the road on our mountainside) so the kids did very well. Friends told us their neighbourhood was like a highway at rush hour and pickings were slim. Regardless a good time had by all...
All being said, I'll have something for you tomorrow - but for tonight I'm taking a robaxacet and heading to bed... Night all!
Night to you, we did the same with grand girl, oh my aching feet. Went to town to take her around as her mom was at work in another town up in Moscow ID, Her mom and older sister then took her at 7:30 to 9pm and we got her back and home we came. We got home just before 10pm.
The power was on again in the morning, so I got a warm shower. I also got to check my emails. There was one from the manager at my local Canadian Tire. They were going to be closing the store permanently and as a regular long term customer, I would be amongst those offered first dibs on all products at 60% off sticker price. This was a one day only sale and everything had to be cleared by the end of day. This sale would be held tomorrow.
There were two other emails of interest. One was from a guy off the same board as Mike and I. He had been talking to Mike. He and his girlfriend lived in a basement apartment in Cabbagetown and needed to get out. I thought about saying no, but then remembered that he volunteered at the Riverdale Farm. I emailed him back and asked what would be happening to the animals. He said that he and two other workers were currently caring for them all but they needed to either get them out, or they would be killed. I told him to hold for five and ran for Eric.
“I’ve got the opportunity to get more farm experience and animals,” I told Eric. I then explained about Steve & Nettie and three others and the Riverdale Farm.
“I haven’t thought of that place in years,” said Eric with a laugh. “I think we did a school trip there in grade 5 or something. It’s a good idea. Those animals will be used to being handled and by inexperienced people. How many do they have?”
“Six sheep and four goats, varieties unknown... Two jersey cows, both just bred, and one unrelated bull calf… a donkey… a four-year old Clydesdale mare and a six-year old Clydesdale gelding… four tamworth sows and three gilts… and about 2-dozen chickens,” I told him. “I have an idea for some of the housing. I just had an email from Canadian Tire and we could get their prefab wood sheds to use as shelters for the smaller animals and then use some of the garages on the abandoned properties for the larger animals… but getting them means at least six more people. Do you have space here?”
“Yeah… the Gallianos are moving over to Cooperstown with their son and his family. The Smiths have decided to go to his father’s cottage near Sudbury. The Haggerties just pcked up and left a note under my door. The O’Neills were able to get a flight to Belfast so they are going home for good. O’Gordon’s wife has asked him to come home…” said Eric ticking off the empty units.
“O’Gordon?!?” I said. “But his wife is nuts! And she accused him of hurting the kids”
“I know but I helped him move. When we arrived, she had her things in some guy’s car and as soon as we pulled in, she waved goodbye and left. According to the neighbours, she has been telling them for days that ole Gordo is coming to get the kids. Turns out that she sold the house, pocketed the money, and the closing is tomorrow. So they are all back and in one of the 3 bedroom 6th floor apartments... I don’t think he gets how far he is going to have to hike to get water. For kids who were supposedly hurt, they sure were happy to see him,” Eric told me. “Anyways point is that we got lots of apartments and the landlord is lowering the rents again because there is no guarantee of water or electricity and soon there will be no guarantee of heat either.”
“So I can tell him yes?” I asked.
“Yeah,” said Eric. “Is he one of your survivalist friends?”
“Preppers…” I started.
“Yeah… yeah… you know what I mean,” laughed Eric. “I am just not keen anymore to be renting to people who can’t look after themselves.”
“Well Steve & Nettie definitely are. I don’t know anything about the others but I would imagine that they have a large variety of skills,” I replied.
So I went and emailed Steve back. Told him to bring as much from the farm and farmhouse as he could.
By 7:30am I had already done a full days work. John and his kids were on time and we got everything together prepared to go. Jack was going to drive the PT Cruiser, while I took the Jeep and John took his van. I made Jack memorize the license plate number ADGG*702.
We arrived at ten to eight and there was a short line already. We joined at the end. A staff member, escorted by two armed guards, came down the line. We were asked for the make, model and license plate number of our vehicle. As we gave it, he repeated it into a walkie-talkie. Out in the parking lot we could see kid on a bike checking each vehicle. When it was radioed back okay, we were given a blue checkmart.
“Here are the rules,” the young man told us. You can spend as much as you want but its cash only and you can’t come back until next week…”
“If there is anything left…” one of the guards muttered under his breath.
The young man smiled weakly. “Right. Now you will be accompanied by a staff member and a guard. The staff member will have a calculator and their tally number is final. No argument or you lose your purchase and get banned from here. You pay at the cash desk and then both will escort you to your vehicle. Do not tip either, we don’t want any robberies in the parking lot.”
I nodded it was pretty much like Monday except the dollar amounts had been eliminated. I made the guys go in ahead of me. I wanted to hear the mood of the line-up and no one was going to say anything in front of John – his whole demeanour screamed cop. When they went in, I could hear people relax and start to chat.
The lady behind me started talking about how she was cooking over a fire pit and that the investment of sending her grandson to summer camp had paid off. He was doing all the cooking. Another woman was talking about being careful about eating what was in her fridge after a neighbour ate something that was off and ended up in hospital. Another man said there had been break-ins all up and down his street. For cover I complained about having to haul water from the basement tap to my 6th floor apartment. The conversation revolved around and I heard that dialysis was being postponed, babies being sickened by heat, too many people just wandering about with nothing to do, offices closed and people not getting paid, money becoming short, tempers beginning to fray… It was my turn to go in.
I had Lucy and Diego to escort me. We began again with large bags of sugar, flour, rice, corn meal, oats, potato flakes, high fat dried milk, semolina, and Red River cereal (commonly referred to as bird seed)... jugs of maple syrup, corn syrup, fancy molasses, soya sauce, black bean sauce, Worcestershire sauce, vegetable oil, olive oil, Tabasco and Frank’s Red Hot sauce… cases of pasta – spaghetti, macaroni, fusilli… peanut butter, tomato paste, mandarin oranges, peaches, pears, jams, mustards, ketchup, and more spices… boxes of teas, hot chocolate, powdered drinks.
“How are thing over in the meat department?” I asked Lucy.
“Nothing left… nothing came in…” she answered.
“What about the dairy aisle?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said. “Lots there.”
So we pushed the carts to the dairy section. I got the whole milk in bags. Ten bags with 3 x 2-litre bags for a total of 60L of milk. I had decided that even with all the powdered milk, I was going to can some. Now it has to be chilled before drinking but it’s just fine right out of the jar for cooking and baking, and soups just plain taste better when you use canned milk. I was also able to get several liters each of heavy cream, butter milk and whipping cream
So to can the milk put 2-½” of water in the pressure canner and place on the stove. Fill clean cold quart jars with fresh milk, leave 0.5″ head space, making sure to wipe it off and spills on the rim. Put into the canner. Once filled, put on the lid, tighten down and turn on the heat, and let it exhaust steam for at least ten minutes before closing the exhaust nozzle. Take the pressure up to 10lbs, then turn off the heat and allow the canner to cool a long time before trying to open the canner. It is safe to open the canner if no more steam escapes, then. Let the jars cool for 24 hours before checking to make sure they are sealed and moving to storage. Label them with the month and year the milk was canned. It should keep for 1-2 years or more if stored in a cool dark place. It is normal for the milk to turn a slight tan color, as the milk sugar will darken the milk at high temperatures. The cream will rise to the top, just shake well before using.
I also picked up several more bricks of hard cheese. The good thing about Costco is sells cheeses that are already brined and waxed.
I then turned us towards the area that sells individually wrapped items for resale or for motels in individual packages. I got chocolate bars, peanut butter, jams, honey, sugar packets, soup packets, jerky, nuts, and crackers – especially the little goldfish crackers that Zeb loves. As soon as he saw them he began to bounce in the back pack. Lucy was laughing at his antics.
“What are we at price-wise?” I asked Lucy.
“$467.92,” she said and the guard winced.
“Ouch!” I said. “Okay for $32 dollars more, what shall I round it out with? Ah… I know.”
I lead us back to the baking aisle and took three jumbo package of chocolate chips.
“Done!” I said.
At the checkout, I handed the girl the correct amount in $20 bills and got $5.11 back in change. We then went to a curtained area where everything was packed in boxes away from prying eyes. The boxes were then put onto a cart and pushed by the clerk to the jeep. The line-up was longer but still not as long as I had expected. Guess some people were still holding onto hope.
Jack was sitting in the PT Cruiser beside me. His father was still not back. I asked the guard to radio his team inside to see where John was in the process. The guard, Diego, looked at me quizzically.
“They say there is no one by that name/description inside…” said Diego. “That is weird because I know I saw him go in ahead of you. I am going to look…”
I looked at the man and appreciated what he was going to do. “I will wait here but I am sending his kid and mine home,” I told him.
I made a call while removing the car seat. “Eric, John is missing. He went into Costco ahead of me and now the some of the guards are claiming he was never here. The van’s here but I also have Jack and Zeb with me. I am going to send them home. Can you get Mrs. Moretti to come and take Zeb from him and can you and a couple of the guys come here. I don’t mind saying that I am more than a little weirded out.”
Jack was not pleased about being sent home. At sixteen, all he wanted to do was prove that he was a man who could defend us. I asked him to defend Zeb and his sister and brother.
I had sent Lucy back with Diego and I kept an eye on the line-up and the parking lot and I will admit relief when Eric and Mike showed up. There was still no sign of Diego or of John and the crowds were growing. Eric then told me to make tracks. He and Mike were going to call on la famiglia and get some answers. How he thought that white bread Canadian Mike was going to help out with a family issue was beyond me, then again the Irish and the Italians had a long history of cooperation in the name of the Blessed Virgin.
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