As soon as I finish work on Friday afternoon, Sage and Daegan are there waiting for me. In their hands is a folded piece of paper. This weekend’s adventure looks to be a “Taskmaster” style adventure. Sage will be in control of the rules and activities. For me these are some of the most exciting because there’s not just an element of uncertainty. There’s a sense of deeper commitment. What kind of coward backs out of a mystery task they signed up for? Not me. And this is how I end up doing things like singing on video – what I previously thought was my kryptonite. Sage and Daegan look particularly excited about this which makes me even more nervous. I open the envelope:
In 10 minutes it will be February 14, 1987
You may only read, watch, and listen to books, TV, movies, and music that came out before that date.
Turn over your smartphone and your laptop. You will continually document your time in 1987 using the technology provided to you.
You will return to 2020 Monday at 5 AM.
YOUR TIME STARTS NOW.
I have ten minutes left in 2020 in which to settle my business before the time machine leaves. I check my work email one last time to make sure there’s no last minute pressing needs, shut down my computer and hand over all my things to Daegan who puts them away safely in his room.
And then, from Sage’s room comes the technology I am allowed to use for the next two and a half days:
I’m given a pen, notebook, manual typewriter, and a camera. (The camera is digital but basic – let’s just say the photos will be “developed” in the future.) And then the adventure begins.
About to go shopping at the mall. If I have time, I will go to the thrift store as well. Better dress warmly, it is a cold one out there!February 14, 1987 – 3:45 PM
And off we go to the mall and thrift store. It truly is cold. I’m not sure how cold, as the last time I looked at the temperature was on my phone at lunchtime in 2020 but it was near -18 then.
The thrift store was a bit of a bust with no good books to speak of and the boom box I hoped to find notably absent. Still, we did get groceries at the mall where they even have a new ATM now so I didn’t have to wait in line for a teller to get money.
When we got back I read some of a book by Stephen King called “The Stand”. It is about a fast-spreading plague. It’s a little creepy to read lately when so many people are afraid of getting sick.
Then Sage and I made up scenes just like those improv comedy shows on PBS. It was so fun and we created so many fun characters like an arrogant Jesus and the daughter of a mob boss who became the boss and made her dad work for her as her cook.February 14, 1987 – 5:50 PM
We get some things for tonight’s dessert at the grocery store and do manage to find a few interesting things at the thrift store – even if they’re nothing we need to bring home.
Busy, Busy, Busy…
Sage heard of a dish called “Fajitas” that they serve at Mexican restaurants in California. So she found a recipe in Family Circle and we are making it. We are also making chocolate chip cookies also. Yummy!!
While we waited for the fajitas to marinade, we watched a rerun of “Family Feud”. Sage won. But oh wow. Why must Richard Dawson kiss every woman?
Sage says there’s a good show on at 8:30 so I need to help make dinner so we don’t miss any of itFebruary 14, 1987 – 8:00 PM
We watch an episode of Stephen Spielberg’s “Amazing Stories”. It’s a silly story about a writer for television comedies that can’t get a break – until his houseplant that spends its days sitting next to the TV watching comedies, starts writing comedy for him. It’s goofy and earnest and fun. While we watch, we eat chicken fajitas wrapped in flour tortillas. I have an orange for dessert and it tastes divine. The cookies are also quite good. It’s such a treat to have fresh baked goods. We don’t often have desserts at home and we have homemade ones less often so it is a nice change.
I bring my book to bed, turn on my book light and manage to read about four paragraphs before I find myself reading the same paragraph over and over again. It’s time to go to sleep.
5:00 AM comes quickly. I’m up early and by the time I am out of the shower, Sage is up in the kitchen. “The paper boy has come.” she tells me, “But I’m a bit mad at him because some of the bottom of the page is cut off.” I sit down at the kitchen table with my coffee and read about what’s happening in the world. The biggest story is about Alina Tomaszewski, a Polish woman who is now a citizen of Canada. She went back to Poland over a year ago to take care of her elderly mom but hadn’t obtained a Canadian passport yet. Instead she traveled on her old Polish passport. And now the Polish government won’t let her leave – but she’s not allowed to work there, either. What a mess. The Eastern Bloc countries are so hard line in how they treat people.
It’s 6:00 am – nearly time to go. I notice that the frost and ice is very thick on the outside of our windows so I wear extra layers and go out to the bus stop. The neighbourhood is still dark nearly empty. There are no cars, let alone buses on the road. Soon I am joined by another man equally bundled up and we wait together. In about seven minutes, a bus arrives and takes us to the subway station.
A subway and streetcar ride later, I’m let off at Spadina and College. The sun is up now but it hasn’t warmed at all. A few more people are awake now. A woman stands outside an office building, shivering and smoking a cigarette. Others wait at streetcar stops to get themselves to work. Finally I arrive at my destination.
At the Church of Saint Stephen-in-the-Fields, there is a drop-in breakfast for hungry people every Saturday morning. Often it is staffed by volunteers from Catholic high schools around the city but on some days, like this weekend’s Family Day holiday, the schools do not send volunteers. On those days I try to make up the difference by volunteering myself. The work is relatively simple but varied. Sometimes it involves making scrambled eggs, other times serving meals to people one by one or replenishing stocks of peanut butter and jelly for bread. Today I am in charge of milk. There is not enough milk to give people glasses of milk – it is only for coffee and tea and so I pour it for everyone. I also work to fill juice glasses.
Guests get a portion of scrambled eggs, a slice of ham, a piece of buttered toast plus all of the raisin bread and peanut butter they can eat (the raisin bread is donated and comes for free), coffee, tea, and juice.
As people come up for their coffee we chat a bit. It’s cold out so they’re glad to have a place to be warm. Another man comes up and as he searches for the sugar for his coffee, enters a stream of consciousness: “Sugar…brown sugar…Jumping Jack Flash…Rolling Stones…Styx…Beatles…” I join him, and we start a conversation that sounds like “Rush…Supertramp…Queen…” and then we are talking about books, and he asks me if I’ve read “Kon Tiki” by Thor Heyerdahl. I haven’t but he recommends I do.
Another man comes up and asks for a knife for the peanut butter and I tell him that we don’t have any. Some people living on the streets have mental health challenges and knives could pose a security issue. The man is not impressed. “They don’t even think of us as human,” he says. Though I can’t change the no-knife policy, I can do my best to engage with him. And I do, bringing him more juice, listening to his stories about how he used to drive a cab 70-80 hours a week for decades but had to quit in 1994 after his back couldn’t take it anymore. He was in community housing for a while, but recently, after a conflict (a neighbour lied about him) he was evicted and now lives on the streets.
A woman comes up in a mobility scooter and I give her some coffee and let her know about the free lunch that will be given here at 12:30. She thinks she’ll come back. She tells me she was here last month and the food was really good and the people were so nice, she tells me.
I’m really happy to see what this church is doing. The group I am with is organized by the Catholic church, another group from a different church is coming in Sunday morning, and at lunch a Muslim group is being given the space – all to help the community. It is a great example of unity across religions and cultures and I’m happy to see it.
After the last guests leave and we have cleaned and packed everything away, restoring the room to its original state, ready for the team from the Masjid to come in, I head out and board the streetcar to go across town to another event.
After about 20 minutes I hear yelling from the back of the streetcar. It sounds like maybe someone ranting to themselves. I can’t understand what they’re saying but I resolve to pay a bit more attention to see what’s happening for my safety and others. Soon a woman in a hijab is going past me to the front of the car with her two daughters of about 7 and 9. They’re visibly upset. A few seconds later another tough looking man is angrily walking quickly behind her. Now I’m worried. Is this the guy who was causing the trouble? As if hearing me he turns around, looks to the back of the car and shouts: “Get off the streetcar now. If you follow them I’ll fucking kill you.”
Now I really don’t know what’s happening but it is not good. I look to the back and see a lone man wobbling on his feet, winter hat pulled almost completely down over his eyes. Every now and again he shouts something but it’s so slurred I can’t really follow it. It’s clear now, though, what is happening. The guy left in the back was harassing the woman and her daughters with Islamophobic slurs. The guy who passed me was defending the family. I go to the front and sit with everyone else who has moved there. Everyone is comforting the mom and her kids telling them that this isn’t right and that they’re sorry she has to deal with it. She says “It’s OK if it’s just me but I hate that my daughters have to see that.” and I think to myself “No, it’s not OK.”
The guy who threatened the harasser is now talking to the driver who has stopped the streetcar. He comes out and shouts to the back saying that we’re not moving until the guy gets off. He’s not paying attention though and the driver goes back to his seat. Thirty seconds later a shrill alarm comes on and in a booming, echoing voice the driver says “We aren’t moving until you leave. You must get off the streetcar now. Police are on their way and you will be charged.” This seems to get the attention of the guy who stumbles off the streetcar. Everyone asks the mom and her kids if they’re OK and she tells us she is.
At the station I head over to a book and record store where I join a group of people for “Silent Book Club” and we all read our books together, drinking coffee and relaxing while Joni Mitchell plays on the record player. It’s delightful.
I go back home, eat lunch and read some more. It’s lovely and soon I am ready for a nap. But it can’t be a long one because Sage has some more plans.
At 4:30 PM we walk out the door first to the east end of the city where we stop at Duckworth’s Fish and Chips – a restaurant that’s been making delicious fish and chips since 1929. Stepping inside feels like stepping in to rural Ontario. A hockey game is on the TV, hockey and baseball star photos are framed on the walls along with fish trophies. Vinyl booths with formica tables line the walls.
The menu is limited to fried seafood, fries and cole slaw but that’s all that is needed. It is delicious – crispy but not greasy. Sage tells me she could eat an entire bowl of the cole slaw. I agree.
And now it’s back on to the subway to a mystery destination. All I know is that we need to be there by 7PM. I have no idea what it will be. Once we get to Dundas West station, though, I start to get an inkling. There’s a movie theatre here, The Revue (Toronto’s oldest operating theater) that sometimes plays older movies. And indeed that is what it is. When we get to the box office, I’m incredibly excited to hear Sage say: “Two for ‘The Life of Brian'”. I’ve always been a huge Monty Python fan and this is one of my favourite films, a skewering of organized religion.
It was as much fun as I’d remembered and I’d never seen it on the big screen. I had only rented the video recently and it is such a different experience to see a film like this with a crowd instead of alone in your living room.
The next morning I was up bright and early again.
Woke up and read the comics with coffee. Not sure why I keep reading them. They have never been funny.
Now I am playing Gin Rummy with Sage. Loser does harder household chore and winner does an easy one. We are quite evenly matched. Looking forward to an outing today.16 Feb 1987 – 8:45 AM
Today I spend most of the morning reading alternating with more games of Gin Rummy before it’s time to go back to the Silent Book Club for a second day. First, though, we needed to pick Daegan up some groceries. We had very little time so rather than go all the way up to the apartment, waiting several minutes for an elevator in each direction, I called Daegan before we left so he could be sure to be waiting downstairs for us.
This time Sage is able to come along and we enjoy the happiness of sharing a room with coffee, book lovers, and good music. The time flies by.
When it is over we are incredibly hungry and since we’re close to where the fish and chips place is we decide that we’re up for that again. Sadly, the place is closed on Sundays and so we must keep going. Luckily a block away we find an Indian restaurant where Sage has channa masala and garlic naan and I have nihari and butter naan. The food is delicious. We eat quickly because we have another plan in the works.
One subway stop and a 20 minute bus ride away we find ourselves at the Parkway Mall. We’ve been here before a couple of years ago and had always resolved to come back because of this:
Except today the place is packed. There are kids everywhere and every lane is booked. There’s no way we’re getting in here. And so we decide to do Plan B – go home and watch a movie. It takes a while for us to choose one at the video store but in the end we find one we agree on:
What an enjoyable film this was. I always enjoy Tom Hanks movies and this was a particularly fun, light watch. By the time it is done, we go out to the kitchen where I start dinner. While I am making dinner, Sage reads to me from my book.
While dinner simmers, it’s back to Gin Rummy and chores. We rush to eat because at 8:00, Family Ties is on. But the TV isn’t working right so we miss that. Fortunately, the signal is back by 8:30 so we watch an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. This was fun but a little predictable. Sage knew the secret about half way through. I wish I could say I had also figured it out but I disagreed with her until the reveal at the end.
As I fall asleep at 9:00 on Sunday night, I’m a little sad to think that this adventure is ending. This has been one of my favourite adventures yet. The joys of living in 1987 were many and the challenges were surprisingly few. Click here to read the next entry: looking back from the present where I’ll talk about how it feels to have been transported back in time – what I liked, disliked, learned, and most importantly, what I’ll be taking away from the experience.