Friday, January 31, 2014

The History of The Rondun Hotel: Part One

Toronto in Winter is so ... romantic? The Rondun Hotel was on the right.

My grandfather was born on a kitchen table in Parkdale. Parkdale is not much to look at these days, last on the list for its token gentrification, but at the turn of the last century is was a lovely area full of wide grand avenues and large square stone houses. Parkdale is an elevated cliff-like area with marvelous views of Lake Ontario and easy access to downtown via the trolley car, such as it was. My grandfather Charles was the eldest of three brothers, next was Eddy, then Lorne. The brothers were wealthy, good looking and did not work but lived in their mother’s house. They had trouble filling the hours. Lorne was a gentle soul but Eddy was a spendthrift like his father with 40 pairs of shoes and 100 silk ties all carefully laid out in his dressing room. He would change clothes several times a day. He sang Irish love songs on the radio and showed up to New Year Eve with a showgirl on each arm. This was during the Depression. When he was ejected from a baseball game for using foul language, it made the front page of the Toronto Star. On hot summer nights all three dressed in matching sparklingly clean white suits with top hats and white patent leather shoes and canes. They would sit perfectly still with crossed legs on a park bench by the lakefront until a beautiful woman walked by in her diaphanous flapper dress at which point they would simultaneously kick out the cane and re-cross their legs on the other side. All without making a sound.

Charles was restless and wanted to see something new. He travelled to New York City and worked as a doorman at the Waldorf Astoria. He travelled to Boston to do the same job but didn’t last long. When he was awoken in the middle of the night by Al Capone’s gangs with tommy guns killing each other in the street he decided he liked adventure but he was not a fool. Besides, he had received an interesting call from his mother Julia about a hotel job up north and decided to return to Toronto. Actually it was more than a job. His father John had died after a lifetime of riding the trains selling the provincial stock of alcohol to all the bars and restaurants and hotels in Ontario and there was some insurance money. You see, then, as today every establishment in Ontario buys its liquor from the government which imports it and taxes and monitors it. Julia had purchased some land at the corner of Dundas and Roncesvalles Ave and was building a small hotel with a bar room on the first floor. You see, then, unlike now, men and women did not drink together but in separate rooms. The hall was a single empty room without a stick of furniture, the only feature a long mahogany bar with brass taps. In the 1950s four large colour TVs were chained to the ceiling in the corners of the room, but no matter how loud they were turned up, they could never be heard over general din of the room. On the same floor, across the entry hallway was the full dining room that provided a full dinner every night of the week, except Sunday when it produced a great roast beef with all the trimmings. And off that was a ladies drinking room, with a few tables and delicate chairs. This was where woman and children, or women and a date could meet with some measure of modesty and decorum. The Rondun was built during the Prohibition in America and the sense of alcohol being the root of all evil never left the original design. Charles came on as the manager and pretty soon The Rondun sold the largest monthly gallonage of beer in Ontario.

Now that he had a job, Charles could think about getting married. He had met a pharmacy bookkeeper named Emma Estelle McWilliams, who everyone came to call Stelle. Stelle was formerly of the Ottawa River Valley, the eldest of six girls and the one boy, the youngest named Hal. She had moved to Toronto right off the farm as soon as circumstances would allow and lived in an apartment with a female friend. Then, unlike now, everything in Toronto closed on a Sunday, even the movie houses. There was church or there was nothing. Stelle and her roommate gave “tea dances” on Sunday afternoon. They would have a few people in for “tea”, move the furniture, turn on the record player and dance the afternoon away. It was really fun, apparently, and Charles told Stelle while they were still dating that they would be able to “tell our grandchildren” about it. Consider it told, grandfather.

Charles gave Stelle a ring and brought her home to meet his mother and brothers. Stelle had no more than crossed the threshold than Eddy walked up to her and said a comment so shocking she almost took it to her grave. Almost, but not quite. Towards the end of her life she admitted that what he said was, “Say now, you’re the girl he’s been fucking”. What happened next was repeated often and everywhere: Stelle – farm girl that she was – hit Eddy square in the face with a closed fist. The comment and subsequent hit happened so fast that both needed a moment to catch their breath. Neither one knew what to do so they both sat down to Sunday dinner and never really mentioned it again.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Guest Blog Post By Allie Hunwicks

Dear Reader, the following exchange and subsequent fan fiction were inspired by the above photo and it's caption. Sometimes the world moves under your feet and you have to move with it. The captions reads "As with all my pets, I gently bit each kitten on the face. This is how I let my animals know that I am now their mother."

Me: HOLYSHITHOLYSHITHOLYSHITHOLYSHIT. Famous people are really and truly crazy. I am going to do this to [my cat] tonight and I will then call you from the hospital. Question: Where on the face?

Allie: I am equally enthralled with the grinning woman in the background. Is she Martha's cat-holder?   

Me: Yes. Only aging southern belles with Valium addictions need apply. It’s like the Air Canada staff.

Allie: Imagine...

You are an Air Canada flight attendant. Your route has been from Toronto to Vancouver and back. Countless, endless times. You long for the excitement that you had always dreamed would come from this job; not a cross country stint that any junior attendant could handle. You are Sheila Bloye - Air Canada flight attendant since 1984,  yellow-gold perm, and your signature dusty rose lipstick ("Falling Again") just recently applied. The thought makes you smile; just a little. As you're rifling through your purse for a pre-flight Valium, Craig (the newest member of your team, Asian, and gay) comes running up to the boarding gate. He is out of breath. "Sheila," he pants, "Oh. MY. GOD." And then he hands it to you. The Thing that you have been waiting for your entire life. It comes in a cream envelope, heavy weight stationary with just a faint peach border embossed on the edges, a whiff of lavender and mint rising with heady promise from the page. "Dear Sheila," you read aloud, barely stifling a girlish giggle that you cannot help rising to your lips, "It is with great pleasure that I invite you..." and you don't even need to read on. Craig is clutching your hands and shrieking with ecstatic pleasure and you realize that for the first time in years you are crying hot, happy tears of joy and dancing, foolishly but gleefully because you know it's the moment you've been waiting for your whole life. You grin cockily, and run your thumb down the edge of the enclosed one-way ticket to Bedford, New York, "Craig," you purr, "get my cat gloves ready, 'cause Mama's headin' to the big time!"

And so begins the long-awaited biography of Sheila Bloye, the most famous of all of Martha's cat-handlers and the woman who made the job a lusted after occupation the world over!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Open Letter to Alli Reed, the aaroncarterfan

aaroncarterfan AKA Alli Reed. Like "Swimfan", but worse.

Dear Alli Reed,

Let me get this straight: You wrote a phony profile, filled it with egregious nonsense and then wrote about the resultant train wreck it caused, calling it "journalism"? They have another term for that: Garbage In, Garbage Out. Rest assured, I have carefully read your online article. Below please find some aspects I find troubling that were not adequately responded to in your “research”.

First, let me help you with a bit of housekeeping. Your profile got a large number of hits because your settings allowed it and because you were new. This is true of every online profile; it rises right to the top of the list because people like things that are new. Sadly, this is not a reflection of your desirability. If you had ever done more than one profile you would know this. I would be interested to learn how many emails you got seven days later. Not as impressive? Not surprising. Second, your article presupposes that “personality” is something that can be gleaned from an online profile. This is not true and you – apparently – are the only one laboring under this false belief. An online profile is closer to a resume, listing your past experience and your current qualifications. Sorry to break that to you, but perhaps this will help you better prepare your “real” one. Or your actual resume. I like to think that after this article you will need it.

In an effort at decency (?) your game had only one level, and it was Pass/Fail. I can assure you that the people who responded had many layers to the game they intended to run on you. Don’t get me wrong, your witty repartee was very funny and, at times, inspired but no one was in the least bit interested in what you had to say, not now and not ever. If you generalize, they were all very interested in actually meeting you. Likely to have sex, with or without your permission. You must have known this because you deliberately ignored their requests to meet. Your foolish words only reinforced how little regard they would have for you in person. They were interested in the obvious; they were interested in the photos of the beautiful model that you posted, no more and no less. Had you had the courage of your convictions, you would have posted photos of yourself. Congratulations, Alli. You just reinforced terrifying stereotypes about why it’s okay to abuse women; because they are stupid, because they are slutty, because they deserve it for past mistakes. As usual, the “world’s worst online profile” was more a reflection of what your sheltered middle-class values find abhorrent and less based in actual fact. You did this because you are scared of being vulnerable and because you secretly mock those who sincerely look for a life partner on the Internet. I will let your therapist sort that out. Having volunteered at a centre for women in crisis, I can assure you that what leads a woman to become a bully, or pregnant or a lie about being pregnant is complex. (Side note: Why did you throw your model friend under the bus? You could have used stock photos of pretty girls. What kind of friend are you? Did you tell her it would make her famous? Improve her career?)

Little girls who use men for drinks, dinner and work product are littering the Internet. This is bleeding into our social conscious; we watch endless commercials and sitcoms where husbands and fathers and portrayed as buffoons. In retaliation, “feminism” is blamed. This is not a response to feminism, this is just you being mean and celebrating it. You say you are “from the internet”. If you mean you pretend to be someone you are not and post the photos of others as your own, then you are correct. Sadly, it’s not a nice place, yet this is hardly journalism. What you did was mean. Moreover, what you did reinforces that it is okay to be mean. Do you really want men to judge women on past poor life choices? Do you really not know a single girl who threatened pregnancy in a fit of anger? I certainly do. How can you expect respect when you are so castrating? How can you trap, lure and mock men and then expect to build lasting loving relationships with them? Is it like flipping a switch? Answer honestly: are you sufficiently amused?