What I Learned from Mr. Tall, a Man Named Gary, and Cab No. 549

Mr

I was sitting on a patio at a pub in Toronto the other night. It was nearly 1 am. I’d just been babysitting a friend’s kids and afterwards hopped in a cab with some other friends and headed to the pub. I got out of the cab and foolishly left one of my bags in the back seat.

When I discovered what I had done I was a bit upset by it. I’m usually very good about stuff like this so when it happens it surprises me. The bag contained a favourite pair of sandals, a water bottle (one of those $25 glass ones with the rubber casing), a copy of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory on dvd, an apple, an apple slicer (one of those cool ones that slices the entire apple in one swift move), some strawberries, and a few books.

The books had sentimental value. I had had them since I was a kid. One of them had been given to me when I turned 5, the same age as Alexander, one of the kids I was babysitting. It was called Ant & Bee. Then there were three Mr. Men books: Mr. Mean, Mr. Silly, and Mr. Tall.

We’d read three of them: Ant & Bee, Mr. Mean, and Mr. Tall. William, the 3-year old, insisted we read Mr. Tall even though I promised to read it to him the next time I came over. But no, he was adamant that we read it. So we did.

Sitting across from me on the bed, he suddenly drew very close to me and even looped his finger under the green hair elastic I had around my right wrist as I read them the story.

It was the best story of the three because it taught a lesson about learning to appreciate what you have, like legs that are too long, as was the case for poor old Mr. Tall. And the best part? Mr. Tickle, with his extra long arms, makes multiple appearances throughout the story, which, of course, meant fits of giggles every few pages as I “tickle, tickle” tickled the two boys.

Best kind of story that.

Mr Tickles

I wonder if William sensed that the book would get lost and that’s why he was so insistent on having me read it? I even left the books on the dresser in the boys’ bedroom and thought I’d better go back to get them so I could be sure they were safe in my bag with me. Books! Granted they were books from my childhood, but they were just books. If I left them there at the house, I’d get them back eventually.

So my friends got home, I hung out with the group of them for a bit and then some of us decided to hop in that cab and go to a pub for a drink.

As we sat down on the patio, that’s when I realized I’d forgotten the bag in the back seat. I got a bit panicky but calmed down pretty quickly, recognizing it was only “stuff” while one of my friends and I called a couple of cab companies in hopes it might turn up.

I looked up to the sky and called out to the universe or my spirit guides to help me, recognizing that perhaps there was a lesson for me in it somewhere and trusting that if it were meant to, the bag or the books would come back to me somehow.

I noticed a bit of a tight feeling in my chest and heart, which I noticed had disappeared while I was busy writing this sitting beside my two friends who were deep in conversation. My heart no longer hurt.

If I started to think about it again, perhaps got home and lay in bed ruminating a bit about all the things I could have done to avoid this happening – like gone straight home, insisted we go to a bar within walking distance, left the books on the dresser where they would still be if I hadn’t been so hell bent on keeping them safe – if I started to think all of these thoughts, I would feel pain again and the more I thought about what I’d lost, the more pain I would feel.

So I decided to just let it go.

And just as I did, just as I was writing that very sentence in my notebook, a man approached our table from the sidewalk beside us. As he did, I thought it was another homeless man. We’d met three so far that night.

When the first man approached, my one girlfriend insisted he go away, that we did not have any money, and as he turned to walk away he and I made eye contact. As I stared at his face I knew straight away that I knew him.

“Hello,” he said. “My name is Gary.”

I knew Gary. I’d met him in 1998 when I was working downtown Toronto, near the old Hummingbird Centre. I was sitting in a park reading a book and there he was, wandering around, singing loudly. He had a bushy brown beard and a thick mop-top of brown hair. And he had a wonderful singing voice.

He wandered around that fountain in the concrete park that day a bit spastically, suddenly yelling, “Sunny side up!” and proclaiming, “My name is Gary. It means ‘Great Man’ and is pronounced gear-ee”. Then he took his shirt off and started doing push-ups on the ledge of the water fountain. I noticed he had good upper body definition.

As he approached me that day 15 years ago, I remember getting nervous. I didn’t want to engage with him but didn’t want to be rude and ignore him either. I was a 25 year old female sitting alone in a park and his unpredictable behaviour was a bit intimidating.

I even wrote a little story about this encounter in the front cover of the hardcover book I was reading that afternoon. That’s how I can remember all of these little details about that day.

He approached and said, “Good day ma’am. Are you looking for the cat in the hat on a mat? Have you found the cat?”

“Not yet,” I replied timidly.

“Oh. I’m sorry. That’s a personal question. Have a nice day.”

And then he walked away.

I saw Gary a number of times over those next 5 years in various locations around the downtown core: the concrete park near the Hummingbird Centre, while sitting on patios at restaurants on King St W., once when he tried to sell me a rose and another when he tried to sell me a disposable camera.

So here, now, 15 years later, was Gary, standing before me on the other side of a patio rail on King St W. asking me for $19. He was clearly older now, his greying hair cut short, a greyish-brown, closely shaved scruff of a beard framing his thinning face. As he turned to me, my friend kept insisting that he go away but suddenly I took his hand in mine and as he said, “Hi, my name is…” I exclaimed excitedly,

“Gary! Yes, I know you. How are you? It’s been a long time.”

He calmly said, “Yes, my love, it has been. Can you help me out?”

“Oh Gary”, I replied, “I can’t even pay my rent right now. But it’s really great to see you.”

“You too”, he said and then he moved on.

I felt so happy hearted. Gary’s face was always so warm and welcoming, a familiar kind of face, and his voice was this gruff yet high-pitched sort of voice, his piercing dark eyes so sad and yet soft and friendly.

“Wow”, I said, as my friends sat in amazement that I actually knew this man. “That was Gary. I haven’t seen him in over 10 years. And here he is, still making his living on the streets of Toronto all these years later.”

We had two more visits from older homeless men asking for a lighter which led to them asking for change, but also to my friend engaging a bit with them as she offered them a cigarette.

I thought about Gary, about my missing bag of stuff and how he and these other men clearly didn’t have much of anything. It became easier to let it go.

And as I wrote down this realization, the fourth man approached us. He wasn’t a homeless man but the taxi driver. He approached us from the sidewalk and said, “Did I just bring you here in my cab? Did you leave a bag in the back seat?”

“Yes!” I said excitedly. “Thank you.”

How wonderful to think that just as I had let it go, there it was coming back to me.

My one friend had been inside and when he returned and I told him the story, he couldn’t believe it. He’d been a little skeptical, feeling we had a lot of faith in cab companies if we thought we would ever see that bag again. He kept asking:

“So, the guy just showed up at the table and gave you your bag back?”

“Yep,” I replied. “Isn’t that so cool?”

And then I took a sip of my water and returned to writing this story feeling blessed and happy and ten feet tall.

The world is my mirror and it’s a magical, magical place.

Mr Tall

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