Further thoughts on muddling through

I was surprised to see that my first post in this space was seven years ago; even more surprised to see that it has been nearly two years since I seemed to have anything to say. If it’s true that you don’t score on 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take, I guess that means there are still a few goals in this stick.

That first post was about the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and the evolution (verging on bowdlerization) of its lyrics. And here we are, near the end our Our Covid Year, and at risk of wearing out a well-used phrase over the past nine months or so, I hope this finds you safe and well. In our little corner, we seem to be safe, and can at least claim something that passes for well.

If there are two better words to describe the year than “muddling through,” I’ve yet to think of them.

It has been a year of constant adaptation, of plans made tentatively and abandoned with regret, of milestones and holidays allowed to pass without proper recognition. It has been a year of emotional fragility—and of the need to keep the mind occupied as much as possible, because any pauses for reflection led inexorably to sadness . . . and anger and loss. And another realization that there’s still some muddling through to be done.

It reached a point a few Sundays ago where I noticed that Meet Me in St. Louis was on TV, and I just didn’t have it in me to watch. Because of that damned song.

And then it snuck up on me. I was watching Stephen Colbert’s show, and Jon Batiste performed it. With the Judy Garland lyrics and not the Sinatra ones. As he has demonstrated many times this year, Jon Batiste gets it. This is not the time for “from now on”; we‘re in a place of clinging to hopes for next year.

Yeah you right.

This ain‘t the time for from now on. All we can do is pin our hopes on next year. Forget about through the years we all will be together; we’re still waiting for someday soon to arrive, and besides, we’re never guaranteed more than we all may be together.

So, assuming you celebrate the holiday, have yourself a merry little Christmas now. Hope to see some of you again someday soon.

If you’ll indulge me in a discordant postscript, there’s a holiday song that really has really grated on my nerves this year. It’s “(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays.”

Because of this part:

I met a man who lives in Tennessee
He was heading for Pennsylvania and some homemade pumpkin pie
From Pennsylvania, folks are travellin’ to Dixie’s sunny shore
From Atlantic to Pacific, gee the traffic is terrific

The sad thing — the sick thing — is that you know people are actually stubbornly travelling great distances to be with people they don’t see more than a couple times a year. I think it’s folly, but what are you gonna do?

Anyway, whenever I’ve heard this song this year, I’ve been singing over it: “From Atlantic to Pacific, gee, the COVID is terrific.”

Soul of the Danforth

If your neighbourhood doesn’t have a place like the Detroit Eatery, it’s not a complete neighbourhood. And tonight, the Danforth is less of a neighbourhood than it was last night.

The Detroit Eatery is the kind of place Kris Draper brings the Stanley Cup after the Red Wings win it. (Because until recently, short of a visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame, that’s about the only way most of us in Toronto could hope to see a champion carry the Cup.)

The Detroit Eatery is the kind of place where you might see a prime minister. Or a governor general (true story — though it was a weekend afternoon and the place was packed, as it always is, so it was John Ralston Saul that I first saw through the crowd). Or a musician whose records you’ve been buying for the last 30-odd years. Or a comedian given to ranting on the television.

The Detroit Eatery is the kind of place where they don’t give you side-eye when you order a Molson Stock Ale (the original Blue). And where they have both Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi. And of course, Faygo Redpop.

The Detroit Eatery is the kind of place where they’ll make you an egg-white Western sandwich when you’re avoiding yolks. And where you can get a double burger with cheese and back bacon when you’re breaking a fast.

The Detroit Eatery is where you can take your nephew when he’s 13 (and of course he orders steak and eggs for breakfast, hold the toast), and Alex Antaras gives him a lollipop as you pay your tab on the way out. And when the nephew is 22, and he’s off living his life 100 miles away, Alex will still ask how he’s doing and insist that you take a couple of lollipops to give him the next time you see him.

The Detroit Eatery is where you watch the women’s Olympic hockey team come back from two goals down to win the 2014 gold medal, and it’s treated as an even bigger deal than that time the Stanley Cup came for a visit.

The Detroit Eatery is the kind of place where they once switched to those newfangled coated french fries, and enough people must’ve complained about it, because they brought back the old fries, and if you ate there regularly, you knew to order the “old fries” with your burger or club sandwich.

The Detroit Eatery is the kind of place where you know it’ll make Chris Antaras’s day if you bring him the complimentary copy of a Steve Yzerman biography you worked on. And you think nothing of it until, a couple months later, he presents you with a coveted Detroit Eatery T-shirt. (Word is, they can’t be purchased, only earned.)

The Detroit Eatery is the kind of place you’ll approach when it’s 10 below, and Alex will be out front without a coat on and proclaim, “Lovely night! How are you?!”

The Detroit Eatery is the kind of place where a birthday celebration might be taking place a couple of tables over, and the revellers bring you slices of the birthday cake.

The Detroit Eatery is the kind of place where you don’t even have to ask about the soup of the day on a Friday, because you know it’ll be navy bean.

The Detroit Eatery is where you’d go after the neighbourhood has been traumatized, because you know there’ll be a crowd, raucous and defiant, and there’s Chris, leading everyone in raucous and defiant toasts to the strength of the Danforth.

May it return, just as defiantly, and the sooner the better. Because every neighbourhood needs a place like the Detroit Eatery, and this neighbourhood is just not complete without it.