The Toronto Santa Claus Parade has run annually for the last 112 years. It's broadcast coast to coast and is a source of Christmas magic for the entire nation. Generations of Canadian children have sat inches from their televisions experiencing near-death like levels of anticipation waiting on the arrival of Jolly Old Saint Nick. In 2011 I accidentally attended. This is my account.
When I get off the train at Spadina station I know something is terribly wrong. Sure it's a god damn Saturday. A few more people out and about is to be expected. But this is madness. It's like the conductor's voice came over the intercom and told us all to get the hell off.
It's hard to move about. The tunnels aren't meant for this kind of evacuation. Which is unsettling. I see a gap in the crowd. Wade my way towards it. Any ground gained I tell myself. But when I get close I see there's no space at all. It's a couple of toddlers attached to their parents with cords. I curse them silently. Give up. Let myself flow up to street level with the current.
But above ground the scene isn't any better. No disbursement. I look south towards Bloor St. where I'm going. It's packed as well. Humans upon humans standing around. Smiling and talking. Don't they know they have to keep moving? No loitering for Christ's sake. The fucking police are always awful quick to let me know that little rule. So where the hell are they now?
I walk to the corner. The crowd is full of cheer. I need to know what 's going on. A man tries to walk past me. Luckily the sidewalk has been reduced to nothing. too many people crowding it. He has no chance. I stop him and demand to know what the fuck is happening. He gives me a look that suggests I'm mad.
I stomp my foot. Another dirty look. But it comes with an answer. It's the Santa Clause parade. Maybe you've heard of it, you god damned kook, he tells me as he strong-arms his way by. I give no resistance. Instead I stand there speechless. Like a sleepwalker coming to. Dazed and without thought I mutter the words motherfucker god damn cock sucker shit to the air around me.
Which of course catches more dirty looks from concerned mothers within earshot. I wave them off with a haughty nonchalance. No bother. I have bigger fish to fry than my role in the corruption of their offspring. I came here to go to a used bookstore on the other side of the street. Which is going to be tough.
As far as I look both ways, the sidewalk has become a wall of people. In front of me it's no less than eight persons deep. Even if I can push my way through, the front of the line is always reserved for the elderly and young. I can see it now. Trip over little Suzy. Come to a crashing halt on Grandma’s lap. Shatter her glass legs. The whole thing stinks of even more inconvenience. No, thanks. There has to be a better way.
I need to get off the corner. I decide to go west along Bloor. But it's not easy. The sidewalks here are from a time long ago. Not wide. It can't hold the steady stream of people coming towards me. I don't know their motives. I don't bother to ask. Instead I put my head down and move along. No apologies now. I need to get to the bookstore. I need to get the fuck out of here.
I keep checking the wall of people to my left. But it's no use. Impenetrable. I get a sick feeling that some of them have been here all night long. Staking their claim. It explains the anticipation I can feel in the air. Off in the distance, I hear a marching band. Oh, shit. Things are about to get a lot worse. I become frantic.
I tell myself there must be some hope at the end of the block. They can't be obstructing the side streets as well. I'll slip across. I fight my way there. But when I get to the next street, it’s another reminder of my bad luck. There's a van from the television station parked there. Cables running this way and that. Temporary metal fencing where the streets intersect. People in front of it just like everywhere else.
I look across the street. I can see the bookstore. It’s right there. I think about kicking my way through the wall, making a sprint across the street. All before the marching band closing in comes stomping into view. Because after that I'm sunk. The flood gates will be open. And the entirety of the county's Christmas spirit will be let loose like a foul bowel movement from the asshole of a very old drunk. I decide against it.
Jesus. There's got to be an answer to this riddle. Bathurst St is only a few more blocks away. There's a subway stop just above Bloor. It's a major transfer spot for the streetcars that run up and down Bathurst. It might be Santa fucking Clause alright. But not even that jolly fat fuck has the clout to stop the Toronto Transit Commission.
I head in the direction of my salvation. Head held high. Arm in front of me rigid as steel. Determination in my eyes. It's a good fight moving along the sidewalk. And by the time I make it to the Bloor Cinema two blocks away I'm exhausted. I take a breather in the recessed entrance.
A stranger is standing there leaning and smiling. I'm huffing and puffing like a dying engine. Isn't the parade wonderful? he says to me in a voice laced with sugar. God damn. It's almost killing me. But I keep that to myself. Tell him, yeah, it's real great pal, then kick my way back out onto the sidewalk. Any more of that guy’s shit and I'm gonna burst.
I get to Bathurst St with a little vigor still left. A southbound streetcar is about to break the crowd. Life couldn't be more perfect. A cop motions for people to move. The streetcar makes its go. I walk beside it casually. A jaunty whistle on my lips. The cop tells me to hold it. I politely ask him what the problem is.
You can't cross here, buddy, he tells me with a little aggression. I balk. Tell him I don't understand. It's no big deal. I don't give a shit about the parade. I'm here to buy books. Well that ain't my problem. All I know is you can't cross here. I ask him how the hell I'm supposed to get where I'm going. Why don't ya get on a streetcar? My response is laughter. Pay 3$ to cross a street. I don't think so. I walk backwards shaking my fist at the cop. Telling him he'll see, that I'll be across the street quicker than he thinks.
Underneath my lie I'm not so sure. The marching band is almost upon us. People everywhere are smiling. It's enough to turn my stomach. I have to get away from it all. But I'm not in a position to make good choices. My mind is a dark storm. I go back the way I came. When I see the Bloor Cinema again it lures me into its doorway.
The stranger from earlier is gone, thank God. I'm as alone as I'm going to get. I feel mildly comfortable. No escaping the marching band, though. It's here now. So I decide to give up. Say, fuck it. Embrace my inner child and wait for the appearance of Santa. Then I can be done with the whole shebang like a used condom.
The first band rumbles by. It's nightmarish. Clang. Bang. Smash and squeal. It's so loud my visons blurs. I feel sick. I think I'm going to pass out. I pray for it to end while children around me are screaming with glee. It's official. I'm a monster.
The band passes. A gang of dancing elves follows. I watch the smooth green nylon covering their thighs as they kick their way by. A float looms in the distance. Comes crawling towards us. A 50 meter blue bear. It's face a frozen smile. Music blasting from a loudspeaker near its asshole.
I reach into my pocket to get my phone. Take a photo. There's a message from Emily. She's at her parents’ house in a small town two hours away. I ignore whatever she's written. Tell her about the elves and the bear with the musical asshole. She responds by telling me she thought I promised I wouldn't eat those mushrooms without her. I laugh. And let her know where I am. And the mushrooms are right where she left them.
She asks me if I'm having a good time. And even though we're 200 kilometers away from each other I can see that smile on her face. The one that lets me know she's busting my balls. I give her the run down. She tells me to breathe deep. And not do anything rash.
The giant bear passes by. No photos. Another god damned band. The banner says they're here from Kentucky. Jesus Christ. That’s a long way to travel just to torment me. But who am I to fight resolve like that? It's over for me. The first band nearly sent me into a frenzy. If I hope to heed Emily, I have to make a move now. But what the fuck can I do?
I scratch my beard. Furrow my brow. Really bear down. Then it comes to me. Eureka! I just have to fight the flow. Walk against the coming parade. At some point I have to come to the end of it. Right? It's just a question of when. I try and think back to my childhood with some accuracy. And if I've got it right. Then the spectacle would last the entirety of the afternoon when televised.
The memory does nothing for my morale. But what can I do? There aren't any other options as far as I can tell. So I step back out onto the crowded sidewalk. Head down. Resolved to defeat the fucking parade. And then shove my victory down the throat of that lousy beat cop at the corner of Bathurst and Bloor. The swine.
I start plowing my way towards the end of the parade and Santa. I had told myself that things were going to be tough. But I never expected it to get so vicious. An older woman comes hobbling up towards me. I step into the snow bank. Flatten against the wall like a gentleman. As soon as I do that the old gal loses any and all infirmity. Sprints past laughing. A youthful twinkle in her eye. I shake my fist and yell obscenities at her. The lying cow.
When I turn around there's a long line of revelers looking for a better vantage point. They show no sign of letting me pass. I take action. Step out into them. Push my way through their ranks. Just as I'm getting to the end, a toddler latches onto my leg. Sinks his small sharp teeth down into my thigh. I yelp. I entertain the idea of strangling the little brute’s father as reparation. But there's no bother. The lesson is never learned. and I always end up looking like the bad guy.
So instead I shake the brat from my leg like the pest that he is. He flies off. Hits a metal trash bin a meter away. Lands with a thud on his face and a round of tears. I've seen this episode before. And the outcome wasn't pleasant for me. Accusations. So I move as fast as I can in the opposite direction. Never looking back. Never giving it a second thought. The universe will take what I owe it when it wants.
At the next corner I take a breather behind a cube van. Jesus Christ. This is getting to be too much. I walk a block up this side street. Far enough away from the parade. Search through my pockets until I find a joint. I lean against a green chain link fence while slowing things down a bit.
From here I have a pretty good view of the parade. I can watch the marching bands at a distance that doesn't send me into a spiral of sickness and despair. They're not bad. But still. I don't see the allure. All the banging and crashing. Didn't this used to be a way to scare your enemies before the attack?
Speaking of which. A small army of Shriners in tiny cars comes zipping in behind. They honk their horns. Smile their smiles. Wave their shaking liver-spotted hands. The crowd cheers. Hell. These fools would yelp their enjoyment at anything. Just as long as it sparkles. Emits familiar holiday tunes at deafening volumes.
Then on cue, a great roar belches from the crowd. All for a tractor trailer full of dancing snowmen and reindeer and even more fucking elves. I think to myself, those poor costumed souls. That's a god damned long day up there prancing for the public. And they can be a crude bunch if they're not thoroughly entertained.
I flick my roach onto the lawn of a small house. Watch a starling drink from a puddle. Look down the narrow street towards the parade. I unfocus my eyes. Then berate myself mentally.
If anyone is watching me from the window of the house I'm sure they see my lips moving. When I'm sufficiently motivated, I come out of the trance, laughing. The parade has to be coming to a close soon, I convince myself. There can't be that much more to fight my way through. This is going to be a piece of cake.
But when I get to the corner, I couldn't be more wrong. No sign of Saint Nick. Just another marching band. I'll have to do my best to ignore it. There are people stupidly crowding the sidewalk. Nothing I can do. Well. Here we go now.
I push my way through a few middle-aged men with their hands in their pockets. They call me names. I laugh. They're behind me now. In the past. Casualties. So I push on. Progress is slow going. Like walking through thick fresh mud.
When I feel like I've been at it about an hour, I look up. Christ. I'm at the edge of the Korean part of town. How much longer can I do do this? I'm losing steam. I tell myself that when I get to Christie Pits park I'll find a bench. Kick the snow from it and sit a spell. Admit defeat and wait out the fat fuck and his twelve tiny reindeer.
I get to the park. Exhausted. Run down. I find a bench back from the street. I start to kick the snow from it when something magical happens. I hear him. A deep baritone espousing Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas! All the garbage. I feel what can only be described as my face lighting up. Some Christmas cheer must've got into me when that child bit me. I find myself drawn back towards the parade. Staring at it with wonder. A twinkle in my eye.
That’s when I see him. And even from back here. 50 meters away, I can see his jolliness beaming out from him like a god damned light from heaven. As he gets closer it's like a childhood dream. My legs are shaking. I can't tell if it's from exhaustion or excitement. Old Saint Nick. Right there in the flesh. Waving to all the children. A smile so wide I can see the whites of his teeth.
He's busy wishing us all good tidings when the truck pulling his float stalls. There's the sound of grinding gears. The truck rumbles to life. Lurches forward. Santa loses his footing. Says, “shit,” in a moment of fear while catching himself on the front of his sleigh. Realizes his faux pas. Tries to save himself. “Sorry there, kids. Santa got a fright. Rudolph doesn't normally jerk off like that.”
“Oh, my god,” I say to some guy standing beside me, “did you hear what he just said?” The fucker gives me a look like I just crawled up out of the sewer. Walks away from me without saying a word. Well, to hell with him. I heard what I heard. I have my Christmas miracle.
Santa passes. And after that the crowd disperses like a noxious fart. An army of garbage men and trucks fall in behind doing their best to pick up the swath of multi-coloured refuse and broken candy canes. They never show this part on television. I can see why. It's definitely lacking in magic and cheer.
I cross the street and follow behind. There's so many people. I can't make any headway. It takes me another forty-five minutes. But I get to the bookstore. I walk down the recessed steps, now covered in refuse from the parade. I see a small chocolate Santa with a boot print in it. Which says a lot more than I ever could, eh?