On Saturday afternoon, my friends and I went to Christie Pits Park in Toronto. We dropped our bikes and belongings down about half way up a hill, close to the corner of Bloor Street West and Christie Street. That’s also where we sat, for over five hours, or something like that.
Not long after we arrived, when I was coming back with coffee for the fellas, a cute looking woman, wearing a black sun hat, arrived and sat at the top of the hill. She pulled out a blanket from a bag large enough to carry a weekend’s worth of clothing, laid it out for herself, and sat down on it. She took off her shoes, and, because I was still standing, I could see that her toes had been painted red. She had a book to keep her company.
Trouble was, when I was sitting, halfway down the hill, it was obvious when I would turn around to look up at her. I ended up stretching my back fairly often. You know, by twisting my torso, to really loosen up the erector spinae muscles on my back.
I’m not sure if she ever looked down at me. Her sun hat created a dark shadow over her face, and her sunglasses stopped me from being able to follow her eyes. She did look up over her book every now and again, to scan the scene that was laid out before her.
The park was busy on that Saturday afternoon. There was a family celebrating what appeared to be a birthday, children were busying themselves on the playground, the rest of the hill was dotted with groups of friends and a fair number of couples, and a church group performed an interpretive dance for park-goers. There were women suntanning, men doing handstands, and people were playing frisbee on the flat space at the bottom of the hill.
Christie Pits Park is aptly named because it’s kind of an inner-city valley. It’s pretty much a square, and the floor is surrounded by land at an incline. It’s not really a valley, it’s just that the main part of the park is lower than the edges of the park.
I think you get the idea.
So there we were, just a group of friends hanging out and having a few good laughs. One of our friends joined a softball team at work, and brought a ball and some baseball gloves with her so she could practice.
I took a bike ride around Mariposa a few weeks ago, and I saw people tossing around a ball while I was riding alongside the beach. It made me miss the days when my dad and I would throw a ball back and forth, playing catch, as it were.
I asked my friend if she’d like to play catch, and she agreed, unaware of nostalgic pretence for my asking.
I warned her that I was horrible at the game. While taking a moment to stretch my shoulder, I told her that my accuracy was awful. I told her this to save myself from embarrassment, should I cast a bad throw or miss an easy catch.
While I was in Finland, my first host-family took me to their family cottage on a lake. We had to use an outhouse, and bathe using boiled water carried into the sauna hut from the kitchen in the house, which was about 20 metres away. In the lake, probably about 40 or 50 metres in from the shore, was a mermaid rock. We were all standing on the beach, while my host-father told stories about his family, in his uniquely slow, steady, and enunciated way. He spoke Swedish, Finnish, and English this way, claiming that if he was taking the time to speak, he’d afford us, his children and I, the time to understand what he was saying the first time ’round.
Once he had finished telling his stories, because the neighbour had walked over after hearing us arrive, I started throwing rocks into the lake. I had a pretty good arm when I was younger, so I was throwing these rocks clear of that mermaid rock just yonder.
My host-father was somewhat impressed by ability to throw rocks, and challenged me and his son to an accuracy challenge: we were to hit the mermaid rock. With the sun setting, we were quickly running out of time. The neighbour, now drunk, also stepped up. It was pretty difficult, but I wasn’t going to give up like my host-brother.
The neighbour’s Finnish got more abrasive and progressively more difficult for my host-brother to translate into English, but he and I pressed on.
I heard a rock I threw hit the mermaid rock. I couldn’t see it because the setting sun didn’t produce enough light for details, but I heard it. The neighbour, in broken English, surprisingly full of profanities, denied my victory.
I no longer have the arm that once won me a meaningless victory against a drunken Finn. My save-myself-from-embarrassment proclamation became my fallback.
It must have been pitiful to watch a 31-year old man attempt to throw a ball. It only got worse as the afternoon wore on. We, my friends and I, would rotate turns with the baseball gloves, but my arm never joined us.
I would throw the ball straight into the ground. I would throw the ball to the far left or right of whomever I was throwing it to. The ball would drop at my feet while my arm continued into the follow-through.
My friends, quite rightly, heckled me. School-aged children had no fear running in front me during their game of tag while I was holding the ball.
To look at me on most days, I don’t appear athletic. But on Saturday afternoon, I was riding a bike, was wearing a Blue Jays baseball cap, had on a fitted, long-sleeve, grey, button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up to my elbows, had on red Polo canvas sneakers with ankle socks, and my low rise, slim Parasuco jeans were rolled up to my calves.
If there was ever a day for my lanky physique to be athletic, it was on Saturday. Clearly.
In between tosses, or while someone was retrieving a ball I had just thrown, I would look to my left and up at the woman wearing a sun hat sitting atop the hill. I wasn’t at a better vantage point than when I was stretching my back while sitting next to my friends who had tired of chasing a rogue baseball, but she looked just as charming. With the sun now lower in the sky, backlighting her, she became more dream like; as she was slowly turning into a well-defined silhouette, her outline was ever-more romantic.
Eventually, my buddies and I ended up sitting in the middle of the hill, where we began, and started thinking about what to do next. With nothing to do, we weren’t in any rush to get up and go. When there was a lull in the conversation, I asked my friend, who had shown me how to throw a ball earlier, if he thought the woman was attractive. From where he was sitting, he couldn’t get a good look either.
We talked about work and what the future might hold for each of us. We gaily flicked a ball between us while we were conversing, which posed little problem for me. Mind you, we were only about four feet apart.
I kept turning around, more frequently and confidently now, to take a look at the woman wearing a sun hat sitting atop the hill who was slowly fading into darkness. The idea of walking up the rest of the hill to talk to her started percolating, but so was the scent of my unhealthy musk.
“What could I say to a woman who has been sitting alone at the top of a hill, reading a book, and wearing a sun hat, for as long as we’ve been here?” I thought.
Nothing. She had seen me throw a ball.