Jimmy’s (107 Portland)

Look at me, workin’ with the green matcha latte in the perfect space

As you walk up Portland Street from King, you will have a choice of coffice spaces: on your left, Jimmy’s; on your right, Jimmy’s. You can sit in one and look across at the other.

The Jimmy’s on the left, at 100 Portland, is the original. It has multiple storeys and a pocket patio in the front. If you are like me, you will go in, look, see that it is too busy, and come out and cross the street. Every time so far.

The Jimmy’s on the right, at 107 Portland, is the newer of the two. Newer to Jimmy’s, that is. It’s not a new building. And it, too, offers you multiple choices. If you’re lucky and there’s room in the room you want.

Walk up and there’s a small front patio and, trust me, it’s not where you’d sit and work if you’re anything like me. Keep going.

The hipness is intense

Walk in the front door and you’re at the espresso bar and it’s noisy and chatty and there’s music playing. There are three small tables and a bench. The place has all the modern shiny brightness of a pub in the old part of Cork, which is to say almost none. And that’s why you’re here. But if you’re feeling less social you may not feel like planting at one of those tables.

Looking over my shoulder as I walk on…

Walk through the back door of that and you’re in a room that’s like the thorax of an insect: not the front and not the back, but it holds it all together. There are tables on both sides and wall plugs and a big mural of Jimmy Hoffa and one window with no view. It’s a hallway but wider, like some lakes are really just a bit of a river that ate something big.

Yo, Jimmy

Out the back door of that and you get to an actual hall, with two washrooms.

On your right, pissoirs. Ahead, the promised land

Another door. Step down. On your right is a door to a small courtyard. You could sit there. It’s almost as big as the exercise yard for solitary confinement prisoners at the supermax penitentiary. I’m told. It has no table.

Sit and contemplate your life choices

Continue through that hallway, past Morrison and Hendrix in blue and black plus some plants, and you enter the true sanctuary, the place where I feel lucky if I can get a seat.

Especially if none of the other people in it are having annoying conversations. Like today.

One couple came down the hall an hour ago, chatting in that self-satisfied couple way, looked in here, declared it too quiet, and went back through the hall. Good. Bugger off.

(Photo taken on a slightly noisier day)

The stereo, omnipresent in the front two rooms, has no speakers back here. You can still hear it, washing down the hall like the frothy front of the surf, along with the ongoing chat of the baristas (and the banging that all espresso bars have), but it’s over there. You’re back here. The tapping of laptop keys is a more present sound. The chirping of nearby birds is your stereo effect.

This back room has a large four-seater table. It has benches with low tables and padded chairs with no tables. It has bookshelves with old encyclopedias. It has cute old machines like a coin-operated coffee machine and an ancient radio console. Neither is in operation. It has an oriental rug. Next to the hall door is a window onto the pocket courtyard. Opposite is a big window on the alley plus a double backdoor with windows. The sunlight falls at angles and is as present as the front-room noise.

Such a space

It is, in short, one of the most perfect work spaces I have found in all Toronto coffice-space-dom.

Don’t come here. I don’t want to keep finding it full.

If you do come here, don’t talk. There are two other rooms for that.

The birds around here are smart, by the way. I just saw one hopping around in the back room. It then flapped its wings, flew low through the doorway, into the hall, around the corner and outside, and up to the heavens. Clearly this is a place for birds that know how to be free and in control of their place in the world. And while it was in here, it, too, was quiet.


Nyctinasties, according to John Ben Hill (in 1936), “are the most common nasties.” Like all nasties, they don’t care where what they’re reacting to comes from – that’s what sets them apart from tropics.

Ah, tropics! Who – or what – doesn’t love following the sun? I’ll tell you: these nasties don’t. They don’t care which direction the sun goes, as long as it goes away. That’s why they’re nyctinasty. During the day, everything’s lain flat, basking in the sun, but when night comes, the blades flip up. As Peter V. Minorsky said (just last year), “the vertical orientation of the blades … would be especially beneficial to flying nocturnal predators … whose modus operandi is death from above.”

Which, in its way, is quite cooperative. Just as long as you’re not a nocturnal herbivore, suddenly exposed to bats, owls, and other flying threats to your life. But the death-dealers surely like it quite well.

Perhaps I should shed a little more light on the subject. Nyctinasty is not related to the nasty that you’ve probably used on occasion to refer to perfumes, politics, movies, music, sex, clothing, and potluck contributions. Nor does it have anything to do with NYC, the city that never sleeps. No, it comes from nycti–, which refers to night and traces to Greek νύξ nux ‘night’, and German nast–, from Greek ναστός nastos ‘pressed together’, which in German and English botany refers to a non-directional influence on a plant. A directional influence, you see, is tropic, as in heliotropic, ‘turning towards the sun’, like sunflowers. A nasty is an influence that is directionally indifferent. A nyctinastic plant – one that exhibits nyctinasty – changes the orientation of its foliage at night, but it doesn’t pay any heed to exactly which way the sun went. Just as long as it’s gone.

People, during the day, are mostly vertical, or at least upright of torso, and at night – for at least the heart of the night – usually go horizontal. Nyctinastic plants are the opposite. Their leaves and petals splay wide open during the day, basking as though on a beach. Then they shut up shop when the sun goes down: as Minorsky says, “At night, the positions that the leaf blades assume, regardless of whether they arise by rising, falling or twisting, are essentially vertical.”

But why? Why not just stay as they were? Are they afraid of muggers, or of mugginess, or of nightmares, or of night rabbits? Minorsky lists some usual hypotheses:

Among the ideas put forth to explain the raison d’être of foliar nyctinasty are that it: (i) improves the temperature relations of plants; (ii) helps remove surface water from foliage; (iii) prevents the disruption of photoperiodism by moonlight; and (iv) directly discourages insect herbivory.

But then he sets forth another, which I have already mentioned: to blow the cover of creatures that go “munch” in the night. To all the plant-eaters that want to sneak out and dine at fashionable hours, these plants say “Surprise! You’re nicked, my nasties!”

Of course, it’s up for debate who are the nasty ones. The herbivores are just out for a late-night salad, and salads usually stay put. These ill-behaved greens don’t play along, and as a result, there will be blood, and bats, and owls. Ichneumon wasps, too.

Oh well. Nature is ever red in tooth and claw – and blade, too. It’s bedtime now. Pull your sheets and blankets snugly over you. I’m sure they’ll stay in place and keep you safe from even the most common nasties. Sweet dreams!


What would you do if you looked down on your page and saw hnecxian looking back up at you?

Would you sneeze? Would you flinch? Would you soften and fade back? Or would you be fascinated by this ink-insect?

You needn’t fear. Although you have just seen it looking back at you, snuffing and snorting and crisp and vexing, whether or not you softened, it has. Hnecxian is the Old English version of the word – in its infinitive verb form. The modern English form, verb, adjective, noun, and adverb, is nesh.

Which is more reminiscent of a bug after it has been squished. Or any other soft and perhaps unwelcome thing. Continue reading

Just for reference

This article was originally published on BoldFace, the blog of Editors Toronto.

If you edit academic books or articles, you probably spend a lot of time tidying up references. Sometimes as much time as editing the entire rest of the text. First, you have to pick your style: Chicago (note or name-date), MLA, APA, or, in the sciences, AMA or Vancouver. Then, you have to make everything consistent with it, to the extent possible. On top of that, you may have to look up the sources to double-check them.

I’ve edited medical continuing-education presentations that had no bibliographies and would cite some sources as just, for instance, “Heinz & Wong 2013.” I would have to find the rest of the citation—and I would, nearly every time, with a single search. Which means that anyone else who wanted to know would also be able to find it as quickly. Our citation standards were developed before the wonderful world of high-powered search engines. If we can find the source from an incomplete or inaccurate citation, how much of this tidying up is necessary? Continue reading


We went to the fancy outdoor food court in front of Union Station to have fancy hot dogs and watch a movie. We got there 45 minutes before movie time and all the seats were already taken. We bought our fancy hot dogs anyway and Aina’s burst hot liquid on her and scalded her and mine ejected its sauerkraut and mustard mid-bite. It was, we may say, a disappointment.

So, suddenly at liberty, we checked the ferry schedule. We made it on time to the next ferry to Ward’s Island, and an hour after our downtown disappointment we were on the beach on the island for the first time this summer. The water was flood-level high but the weather was beautiful and it wasn’t crowded. Aina frolicked in the waves and I stood and observed the deepening cyans and magentas of the hour before a summer sunset on the lake. And then we went to the cute café by the lawn bowling club and had refreshment as an exactly perfect summer evening wrapped itself around us like a friendly cat.

It was, we may say, a surappointment. Continue reading

One fewer thing to fuss about

Let us say, for the nonce, that the author of a book telling people how to improve their English has declared, “More is commonly used in speaking of numbers; I believe greater would do better. No greater than a hundred appears to me not only more elegant than No more than a hundred, but more strictly proper. More is best reserved for mass quantities.”

Well. We English speakers have a very problematic relationship with our language. If something seems natural, simple, clear, and obvious, and if it’s something we heard people do all the time, we are very eager to believe a rule telling us it’s wrong. We’re prone to rule-seeking behaviour because we’ve learned to be insecure about our grasp of English’s rules – they’re so capricious and inconsistent – and a new rule also gives us an additional sorting and tidying tool… and something to whack people on the head with to show our superiority, too.

So, if the book came out at the right time and found the right audience, we would soon have people insisting that cookbooks that say “More than 200 of the best high-fat recipes” should instead say “Greater than 200 of the best high-fat recipes,” and that when inviting friends over you should say “The greater, the merrier”; news articles would fussily put “Observers estimated there were greater than 5,000 people in attendance” and “He has lived in the city for greater than five years.”

Does this sound far-fetched? It’s so incredibly near-fetched, it’s fetched right off your page… more or less. Continue reading

What do we care about, really?

“Oh, please, stop. I can’t stand to hear that. It’s like chewing on tin foil. You have it all wrong. Really, I must insist. I care about good English.”

Behold one of the great socially countenanced forms of authoritarian aggression: brutishly objecting to someone else’s English usage. The sin may be a pronunciation that’s not “right,” or a transgression of one of the grade-school superstitions (“split infinitives,” ending sentences with prepositions, using the word ain’t), or a “wrong” meaning (decimate gets a lot of this), or – Heaven forfend – a misspelling. We treat a spelling error as sufficient to vitiate any argument, however well reasoned; we may even issue peremptory unsolicited corrections to slight variations from what we consider correct. Some people have gone so far as to vandalize public signage to change punctuation. And the self-justification is always on the order of “I care about good English.”

Spoiler: That is not why we are doing it. Continue reading