Gaugin’s Chair

After I spent the summer working at a bookstore on Queen Street, my return to York University, for my third year, filled me with dismay. The university’s hideous grey buildings were scattered about a windswept landscape and reminded me of large boulders that a glacier had abandoned as it drew back. York had been erected in the 1960s and ’70s and held relics of the era’s worst architectural excesses—massive, starkly functional, a paucity of windows, a predominance of concrete facades. York had been established during a period of great student unrest and so the campus was designed to keep us on the move with very few places to congregate—lots of corridors and hallways, few common rooms and courtyards. The centre of the university, if indeed there was a centre to this haphazard scattering of edifices, was the Ross Building, a lumbering mass built in the style of Brutalism, its inner and outer walls exposed cement. With its tiny slits of windows, it resembled the secret service department in some fascist country, where unspeakable things were done to people. It was impossibly depressing that this campus would be my milieu for the next nine months.

Published in TOK: Writing the New Toronto, Book 5. Purchase the book to read the full piece.

Toronto locations referenced in this piece

“With the intention of broadening young minds, York University required that arts and humanities students take one science course. I decided to face the inevitable and registered for Man and Nature . . . ” —York University

“When I went to Kensington Market, I would often try on an outfit—a tuxedo shirt, some smart jackets with tassels and epaulets (I had particularly fallen for a red marching band jacket, with gold trim), an interesting bowler hat or a fedora with a feather . . . ” —Kensington Ave.

“I had not been alone with my mother since that incident. The next afternoon, being Friday and our regular shopping time, we set out for Bridlewood Mall. As we walked along, I could feel the tension between us . . . ” —Bridlewood Mall

“What was commonly referred to by South Asians as Gerrard Street was actually a few blocks devoted to Indian stores. Since it was Saturday and the weather still warm, the pavement was crowded with families who had come to shop or have a meal . . . ” —Gerrard St.

“On Sunday evening, I got home from the Toronto Reference Library to find that James had called to say we were to meet the next afternoon for coffee at the Ainger. I should have been angry with him for this long silence but, instead, I felt only relief an . . . ” —Toronto Reference Library

“The wedding hall was a grey, squat, windowless building in Markham, the suburb north of where we lived. It was surrounded by a parking lot and, beyond that there was a wasteland covered in goldenrod and grass, which had taken on that scraggly, charred . . . ” —Markham

“‘Various ones on Isabella Street, perhaps? ’ She nodded and smiled at my shocked expression, as she blew out smoke. ‘My best friend in Guelph is gay. I can spot one. Besides, you’re too nice to be straight. And too good looking.’ . . . ” —Isabella St.