Norm and The Herring Belt

L1090539I live in Parkdale. I like to call it Little Scotland, but it’s actually Little Tibet or Little Roma-ville or Little Halfway House. Doing laundry round here can be interesting. There’s a laundry much closer than the big, airy one I trek to at King and Dufferin, but I prefer a laundry where the folding counters don’t double as cots for pungent neighbourhood drunks. I’m fussy that way.

Last time I did laundry, I had to guard my recently laundered outfits from an identically diabolical pair of three-year-old blonde demon twins determined to pilfer anything that wasn’t bolted down — plus several items that were. When they weren’t turning off all the laundry lights and plunging the place into darkness or pushing each other down the steps in laundry carts, they were stealthily removing socks from dryers, detergent from bags, even the drain grates from the floor. Impressive! At one stage one of them inched past me, dragging someone else’s laundry bag, twice her height, her determined wee face set in fierce concentration. Their mother, pregnant with another imminent accomplice, did nothing.

Once I made the mistake of going to the laundry on a weekend. Insanity! Half a dozen scrawny white women with tattooed necks were practically brawling over dryers. While they were distracted, threatening each other with various forms of bodily harm, one of the guys from one of the many assisted living rooming houses round here was carefully putting two individual socks into six individual machines. When the tattoed ladies turned their steely gazes to this crime, I thought they might kill him.

Today, it was quiet in there. A couple of Vietnamese women, one Roma family, a few Indian ladies in saris, and Norm.

Norm is an incredibly cheerful, paint-spattered white guy of around 50. He has half a fine set of teeth. The left half. The other half were lost in an altercation in The Bluebird or Happy Time or one of the other fine drinking emporiums round here. But Norm remains cheerful and sings like an ecstatic, intoxicated lark as he rolls his sweatshirts and sweatpants at King’s Coin Laundry.

After we had a nice chat about which was our favourite washing machine (Norm has a bit of a soft spot for number 9, while, under pressure, I opted for number 6), he worked out I wasn’t from here and decided I needed a thorough history of Toronto’s “Herring Belt” as he calls the area round Spadina and Queen where the Finnish population used to live.

I had no idea what that area was like before it became the roosting place for identikit name brand stores and overpaid advertising drones. The Black Bull, said Norm, was the Finnish bar, and Peter Pan was the Finnish restaurant. Did I know the gay sauna on Windermere? I had to admit that I wasn’t personally familiar with it. That was the Finnish sauna, he said. Fascinating. Then Norm got back to singing.

In between verses, Norm said he’d never needed to leave Toronto because everyone from all round the world comes to Toronto. “The whole world is here. They come to me,” he said, beaming. Norm is perhaps the most upbeat, easily pleased person I’ve ever met. Norm is pretty awesome. He’s asked me to come back and meet him at King Coin again tomorrow – he’s got a whole load of dirty sports socks destined for machine number 9. I’m going to try and make it. He’ll need a second pair of eyes in case the demon twins are on duty that day.

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