Siege Diaries 8/8/2020


It seems so familiar, this rhythm, this route, even the music. That last day on the train, on the way in, I’d listened to the same music, musing that the Shostakovich 14th symphony was what was speaking to me at that moment. Its voice is even louder today.  But the bridge–not congested at all on this Saturday morning in a different time–reminds me of the Shostakovich 7th, the first movement, stuck in the morning commute to the station, anxious about making my 6:59 train as the Hitlerites advance on the city already done in by Stalin.

On the last day I travelled this route, though, I drove, in an “abundance of caution”.  I only went in because there were items I wanted to take home.  The traffic was still brutal, the complete shutdown still to come.  My manager was in, and her manager, who I now know I likely saw for the last time.  The stores in the GO station were all still open. The city was starting to totter.  Basketball and hockey had been put on hold, but for now, people mostly still went about their lives.

The last co-worker I saw was Mary, in the elevator lobby.

Until the end of March, they said at first.  I knew better, I thought.  Three months, maybe.  Middle of June.

We were out of Phase 1 by then, but, no.

Perhaps, by the end of the year. Perhaps.  We know now that the workspace will need to be reconfigured. We know that we can succeed working from home.

Driving to work usually meant I had something to stay for in the evening–most often a concert, but sometimes a Toastmasters function, or a sporting event to attend with my colleagues.

By now, we would have already enjoyed a Jays game.  Now, the Jays play in Buffalo.

By now, the Raptors would likely no longer be NBA Champions.  Now, they are winning praise for their play in the “bubble” in Florida.

By now the Stanley Cup would have been raised high by the victorious team–probably not the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Now, the Leafs play tomorrow to determine whether they go forward into the playoffs, in an empty arena.

They’re down here, close by.  I can look into the NHL bubble from my workplace. To get here, I go into a deserted lobby, where arrows indicate the now-familiar dance that must be done.  Check in.  I had to think to pack my security pass, which had sat undisturbed in my bag for five months. It works.  Into the elevator–more arrows.

The tenth floor
Frozen in time
With movement
The lights flick on
Nothing touched
I tour the museum
Brankica’s desk is laden with photos
Sharon’s desk, the dragonboating medal
A Christmas card here, from another time
The dead plant mocks the watering can
An ashless Pompeii

Mike comes in, greets me, as he often did when we worked there, and for about half a minute I can almost pretend it’s a normal day.  But he stays only a moment, and I am alone again.

What was life like here, when it existed?  I can remember it, the stuffing into a tiny conference room for a congratulatory cake for a team member, and shudder a little at how once we did not respect physical distance.  The walks at lunch.  Waiting on the platform for the GO train, perhaps a bag of Union Chicken takeout in hand.


Perhaps there would have been another Thursday farmer’s market with the perogie vendor I loved.  There would have been strolls in the Music Garden. And I would have met the program manager I’m currently working with in person.  I have no idea what he looks like.  He’s British.  I envision him as Hugh Laurie-esque.

I excavate my desk drawer, wondering at the archaeological finds.  Time-whitened chocolates.  Emergency earrings and socks.   Three kinds of glue.

Some of this stuff is fourteen years old.

A big red button.  “That was easy,” it tells me, as I dump it into a bag.

And taking things apart is indeed easy.  It’s the reassembling them that’s hard, a little like having the Lego model of the Empire State Building and being told to turn it into the Chrysler Building instead.

I take some photos.  This was my third desk at the new office.  Before that, at the old place, I sat at six different desks.  It might be the last I call my own.

It only takes 20 minutes. Two bags of artifacts.

I decide to take a quick tour once I’m downstairs.  Coppa’s remains open and stocked, as does Winners.  Over the bridge that crosses Lakeshore Dr., I enter into the part of the PATH that passes through the Scotiabank Arena.  There’s a door marked Media.  I’m skirting the NHL bubble.

I can see down into an empty Maple Leaf Square, a lone security guard the only sign of life.  All is still, like an art gallery, where depictions of a familiar city hang on the wall, and I place myself within the frame of each painting, engaged, yet not engaging.

The city keeps its social distance from me, and I know not to touch it .