Coffee shops and death notices

The Grinder, it’s called. A new coffee shop smack dab between the Fu Zu Lang Qi Association of Canada and the Original Collegiate Lunch Diner on Gerrard Street East in Leslieville. I stopped by this morning because it seemed a fine place to sip an Americano while reading Toronto Star death notices. Large windows onto sky and traffic and trees declaring the season. One 25 foot maple had exactly 63 leaves clinging to its branches. I counted them between swallows and thought: how could I possibly ever get a real job?

In my hand, besides the death notices, was a tiny Five Star***** aqua-marine notebook and a pen. I rarely bring my lap top with me to local cafes. I scrawl from away and write from my desk at home because machines are too heavy and trip me up as I careen around tables balancing scalding liquids, bready muffins, and armloads of books. The Grinder illustrates what doesn’t work in terms of an appropriate venue to read death notices. And yet this kind of environment, as annoying as it is to me, is curiously alive and worthy of celebration not criticism.


“This place is going from bad to worse.” I actually spoke these words to nobody while sitting at my window table precisely when the owner switched to commercial radio and cranked up the sound. Play that funky music white boy–he sang along while grinding and slamming the espresso filler-upper. “They was dancin’ and singin’ and movin’ to the groovin’.”

A few minutes earlier the owner hon’d and dear’d me up at the coffee bar; he didn’t know that I’d rather be dude’ed or kindly ignored. He was in his fifties, probably a few years older than me, and although his heart seemed big enough it was his manner that irritated–the volume and content sucked away my hope for a calm space to look out at the world and think about death.

A woman walked into the shop after a few minutes with a hooded infant strapped to her chest and a cell phone pinned to her lips talking real estate. Fu Zu Lang Qi  might be shutting down, she said, so that might work as a space. A space for what wasn’t made clear, but her baby will probably have the answer in a call or two.

Again: I was witnessing life and plans and hopes and futures and needed to switch off the inner critic or leave, just leave to be alone at my desk instead of out where people can piss me off. But there’s an inherent contradiction here. As much as I love writing obituaries, telling the stories of people’s lives and achievements, I don’t want to simultaneously close down my capacity to enjoy the varied dramas around me and just count the falling leaves.


About Nor

I'm a creative non-fiction writer, with a special interest in memoirs and obituaries--life stories, local histories with flesh & blood anecdotal details. I'm also beginning to create podcasts of people's stories and expanding their audiences. I'm a diarist, an editor, and a political activist. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and spend days tapping keys or staining my fingers in ink.
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