Column

Where people wander lonely as a crowd, leading lives of not-so-quiet dissipation

Allan Fotheringham October 1 1979
Column

Where people wander lonely as a crowd, leading lives of not-so-quiet dissipation

Allan Fotheringham October 1 1979

Where people wander lonely as a crowd, leading lives of not-so-quiet dissipation

Column

Allan Fotheringham

Toronto is a pussycat. The city’s skyline and personality are dominated by the smell of money: the cold, white tower of the Bank of Commerce, the black hulk of the Toronto-Dominion, the self-indulgent gold of the Royal Bank complex—all huddled together as if for warmth at the foot of the city overlooking the lake. Grim men, and secretaries trying to cope simultaneously with split skirts and the windstorms created by the crowding towers,

emerge from underground like busy moles and swarm toward these collections of cash. Yet, in an almost touching way, the real theme of the city is tapped by a lady who earns her living by pouring out her heart to mesmerized readers. What the city really wants is warmth, understanding, empathy and succor. Toronto desperately needs a soother.

The cultural coloration of the city is revealed by what Joan Sutton does every day in the Toronto Star, the largest and richest paper in the land. A fragile-looking, pretty

lady of indeterminate age, she opens her soul each day and sprinkles it out in print while the city of credit cards gains sustenance and reassurance found lacking in the computer printouts. Here is Joan one day last week:

“I cannot banish the ghosts that sit on the end of your bed at 4 o’clock in the morning. But I can give them some competition. I can weave some memories that will be more pleasant company as you wait the dawn: friends shared, the gasp of sails straining for the wind, music, talk, good food, touch, and wine.” And so on. Balm to the cold heart of Cash City.

The phenomenon of Joan Sutton is not lost on the shrewd press lords of the largest and most lucrative newspaper market in Canada. Until recently, she plied her wares in the cheeky Toronto Sun tabloid until an uncouth fellow columnist displayed excessive warmth to her at a party, whereupon she took her act down the street to the yearning arms of the vast and terribly serious

Star, which is usually full of moral uplift and sermons on the Auto Pact. One sees all the humorless commuters on the subway, surreptitiously reading Ms. Sutton’s column, almost squirming with the uncomfortable feeling that total strangers are sitting by, intruding on this liaison with the lady columnist who whispers that tender understanding will solve the workaday blahs.

The Sun, aware of the throngs out there in need of a few eyedrops of love each morning before facing the streetcars, is about to retaliate with Merle

Shain. She is also fragile-looking, a lady who made a best-selling sensation out of her book called Some Men Are More Perfect Than Others, and writes about the problems of getting through the night. Joan Sutton is about to publish her own book, All Men Are Not Alike—a fact recently discovered by female sportswriters allowed into majorleague dressing rooms.

All this is by way of puzzling over the personal angst that permeates Toronto like the Dutch elm disease. It is, in its way, the same rootless tone that one finds in New York: the more successful and crowded the city, the more lonely little cells of unhappiness. The other evening a good portion of the media mafia of Toronto, black-tied and beautiful, gathered for a benefit opening night at a dinner-theatre opening of Plaza Suite, the well-worn Neil Simon vignette of lush and loneliness in the Wormy Apple. Larry Solway, a hotline host, was surprisingly effective as the outrageous star, sort of a Jewish Jack Webster, but

the most interesting fact was the audience, the long thoughtful silences from this crowd as the dalliance with the secretary unfolded and the wives nodded and pondered in the dark. It was a comedy but there were a lot of people not laughing.

Much of the same gravelly feeling to the city can be detected, written by many of the same people, in an instant nostalgia book, Farewell to the 70s. It is, of course, the world viewed from To-

ronto and among the 120 contributors is history professor Edward Shorter (the man who discovered that there is sex in Ottawa) telling us that B and D (bondage and domination) are now In and that entire streets of Toronto are now populated with LTRs which are not, as it turns out, a form of landing craft, but Living Together Relationships. Will heady sophistication never cease?

One suspects we are closer to reality in another piece, The Eyes of Toronto 1969-79, by Scott Symons (who writes like Tom Wolfe in heat). “Toronto eyes in 1979,” he writes,

“are furtive, withdrawn, working only point to point, or by ricochet, instead of embracing some brave new world. And when such eyes do peer out, it is a flat flesh-quest. That, and a diffuse chagrin, diffuse fear, everywhere. As if something central has been torn out of everybody—or has it merely been subtly eroded.”

Don Harron, who uses wit to disguise the fact that he is a serious person, writes that he was born in Toronto, the “New Ilium,” and yet finds even recent immigrants assuming the uniform of the WASP: “White Anti-Sexual Protestant.” Everywhere I go in gleaming Toronto I look around me and see replicas of the denizens of the ’40s with whom I grew up. I read about the brittle sophisticates in the Courtyard Café and Fenton’s but I see the same tight-mouthed and presumably tight-assed squares with whom I grew up.

How strange, in the city that speaks cash, the dominant theme is Miss Lonely-hearts.