Here’s the old side
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The Balzac’s on Market Street is the closest coffice space to where I live, but I don’t work here all that often. It used to be a narrow, dark, and often crowded place, which didn’t appeal to me so much. Now they’ve expanded into the might brighter space next door that used to be a juice bar or something. You can still sit in the old side in chthonic relative dimness at one of the eight marble cookie tables along the padded yellow wall bench, the three towards the window, the four stools at the marble counter right behind the espresso machine, or – weather permitting – the patio on Market Street (which is pretty nice), but you can also go to the new annex and occupy one of four marble cookie tables or a stool at one of two marble high-top counters that supposedly seat eight but really more like four each. And when you’re in the new part it’s bright.
Here’s the new side
I won’t say it’s any quieter in one part than the other. Obviously all the coffee noises are in the old side, but the two are connected by an open archway so it passes through. The music also plays only in the old side. But conversation tends to drown it out anyway. And when it’s busy with people talking with each other – as it can be mid-morning – there’s a bubbling swimming pool of noise, let me tell you.
Balzac’s is a chain, and I’ve already talked about their location at Ryerson. Each location has some of the character of its neighbourhood. This one is across from St. Lawrence Market. Market Street is the most charming little street in a neighbourhood that’s overall pretty charming, and I’m not just saying that because I live here. What the locations don’t differ in is their coffee – always good, no matter what you get – and their food items. I seldom get food at a coffice space, but I have difficulty resisting the peanut butter squares at Balzac’s.
Just look at it.
Another thing the locations have in common is that you don’t have to navigate steps to get into them or to their washrooms. And the washrooms are modern and clean. No stairways to hell or basement safaris.
I remember overhearing some nitwits talking about one of the Balzac’s locations – “Yeah, it’s named after a city in Alberta.” Just to clear this up: Balzac is not a city, not a town, more like a crossroads just north of Calgary. And it’s named after Honoré de Balzac, as is the coffee chain. Why name a coffee chain after a famous French author? Because he was a seriouscoffee drinker. Like a twenty-cup-a-day dude. No idea how he held his pen steady enough. I don’t think I’d even be able to type. Itt widuhok beeh liikjjke thsispaosbs.
Cathryn set her tumbler down with a rap and spun to see who had tapped on her shoulder. The tapper, a tallish, bespectacled man around 50, stepped back abruptly. “Sorry,” he said.
He didn’t seem obnoxious, aside from having tapped her on the shoulder. “No, sorry, I’m just a little jumpy right now,” she said. Then a thought stiffened her like a foot in ice water. Was she going to jump? She seemed not to be jumping. She looked down at her feet. They were not jumping.
“‘Jumpy’ isn’t one of the terms that have been updated, I guess,” the man said. He attempted a smile. Continue reading
“Wait,” Cathryn said into her phone. “How did you know I found him?”
The minivan that was probably carrying Maxim Patryshyn and Marcy (full name Marycela?) Coachman was now a pair of taillights merging in the distance and then turning a corner. It was cool and breezy in the concrete canyon. For want of anything better to do, Cathryn went back into ÖL and sat back where she had been, at the window end of the bar, as she listened to Pierre von Falk on her phone.
Pierre’s voice was now so professionally polite it was almost shiny. “I get the daily update notices for Worcester online dictionaries. The spelling of your name is…” There was a pause on the line. Then: “…I won’t say it’s unique, because apparently I physically can’t call it that, because there are other Cathryns in the world and the word ‘unique’ has lately been updated by Maxim. But so has the word ‘cathryn,’ heretofore unseen in Worcester Dictionaries.” Continue reading
The elevator trip down was just long enough for Cathryn’s mental wheels to get some traction on who to talk to next. Pierre von Falk seemed pretty much tapped out. Karly Presser was out of the loop. Maxim Patryshyn had the magic wand but didn’t know how he got it and wasn’t fully sure how to wave it. She had one other name to try. And she didn’t want to waste any time. Continue reading
Meeting a complete stranger (and a stranger one than most) alone at his place for tea in mid-evening is not a thing Cathryn would normally do or even advise doing. But she had a Problem to solve. She had a husband unconscious and being fished back from the pool of death and a friend in an almost equally parlous circumstance, and the door to the solution had a lock on it that would only open if you answered the right riddle the right way. If it would even open then. So Cathryn was walking down a mostly empty streetlamp-lit sidewalk with undead leaves dancing around her feet like mocking street urchins, on her way from the subway station to 26 Prince Street. On either side of her, buildings of a sampler of ages and a random distribution of heights rose in expressionist perspective.
And then she was at the door. Continue reading
To: Pierre von Falk
From: Cathryn Espy
Hi, Pierre. A friend just let me know her husband had used “enervated” with bad results. Also “schmaltz.”
Cathryn hit Send and sat back, right arm across her chest, left hand up to her mouth in the no-I’m-not-thinking-of-sucking-my-thumb-why-would-you-ask-that pose. Now. She looked over at the bookmark with the email addresses, which was sitting next to her keyboard. What next? Continue reading
Still available on Amazon.
Cathryn stared at her computer screen. The dictionary hadn’t been pulled off the market.
They knew, right? Pierre knew. But he wasn’t in charge.
But how many people could be buying it? Most people just go online and use the free version – or another dictionary site. Or buy the collegiate one if they want a book. The full Universal was a doorstopper. Too big to be an ox-stunner because you have to be able to swing something to stun an ox with it. And it was… $126.42, discounted price. Who would even spend that?
People with friends having birthdays, that’s who. Given the price, friends they really cared about. Ironically. Continue reading
This is definitely in Toronto
Listen to the audio version of this coffice space review – really, it’s not quite the same without hearing it – at Patreon.com.
I could be in any one of so many different parts of Toronto. The continuous passing of streetcars out front cuts the possibilities down some. But leaving that out, you could lift up this coffice space and drop it just about anywhere on the west side of the older part of Toronto – or many places on the east side, too – and it would make sense. (As it happens, it’s on the north side of College just east of Bathurst.) Continue reading
Cathryn could have spent all day sitting looking at Henry as he lay there breathing almost imperceptibly, the long clear reverse leeches of intravenous tubes feeding him, drip by drip. She took his hand for a time, but it was like holding the limp foot of bird. It still had the weathering that bicyclists get, but no longer the nutrition. Henry’s hands were strong enough to get a glass jar of sauerkraut open in less than a minute most of the time, but not now. His hand, like his whole body, seemed little more than an asterisk for the real thing, but the real Henry was buried in a footnote that she had no access to.
So here she was, walking into Skullbox Espresso, trying to find that footnote and bring him out of it into the body text. Maybe this dictionary thing was really unrelated. But until he was talking again, what else did she have to go on? And the nurse and Doctor Nurse had said positive things but looked more concerned than she thought they should. Continue reading
Cathryn flicked on the kitchen light. She set her purse on one counter. An open bag of corn chips was mostly sticking out the top of it. In her left hand was a brown bag with a fifteen-dollar screwcap bottle of red wine in it; she set that down next to the purse. She walked up to the cupboard that held the glasses. Open… ah, whew, still there. She opened one of the food cabinet doors.
Still not there.
She closed the cabinet. She said, out loud to the empty apartment, “Our food and beverage supplies are literally decimated.” She opened the cabinet again, hoping to see 90% of it there. Continue reading