City Living - Letters from Kingston - Change of Place
Change of Place
Rediscovering home in Kingston — The first in a series of letters
By Iain Reid | Illustration By Tim Alblas
Iain Reid is the author of One Bird’s Choice. His second book, The Truth About Luck, will be published next year. Here, Kingston Life publishes a selection of his letters to friends, family and colleagues as he shares his unique point of view on life as a writer in the city of Kingston.
Greetings from Kingston.
I’ve been thinking of you recently. Do you remember how I was (am) often hungry? Not grotesquely, just proportionally to other adults my age and general size. You used to remark how I ate every few hours and snacked aggressively in between. You never seemed impressed or disturbed, but gently curious. I thought of you because I’m feeling even hungrier these days. More than I ever was in Toronto. You asked in your email how I’ve settled into Kingston. I want to tell you about a day this fall, a day when I was particularly hungry.
For a fellow who cherishes his lunch the way I do, I’ve found many viable options in Kingston. I will never say to no to Pan Chancho, Pasta Genova or Wok-In. Harper’s Burger Bar is a satisfying indulgence. On this day I wandered down to another favourite, the Golden Rooster Deli. It’s always busy, Rena, which is irritating. Not because I dislike waiting. I’m untroubled by waiting in itself. But I loathe the extra time that invariably forces me to reconsider my preplanned order. I always settle on my choice before setting foot into the deli. By the time I’m asked what I want, I’ve changed my mind 10 or 12 times. I immediately begin to regret my decision before I finish uttering the order. We’re all aware of the paradox of choice and it overpowers me every time I order lunch at the deli. Except on this day.
Still a few blocks away I was thinking along classic lines: ham and cheese with mustard. Amid the confusion and mayhem that is the deli at lunch, I didn’t veer to tuna or soup or crispy schnitzel. I remained committed to ham. I felt deeply superior to everyone else, all the chumps with stew, salad or bagels. I was better because of my Black Forest on a kaiser. Hoping for a little quiet face time with my fare, I opted for takeout, paid and was back outside with my prize.
Not only was this a sunny day, it was hot and mightily humid. A pleasant memory at this wintry time of year but a rough trio at the time for a staunch non-beachgoer like me. In these conditions my default position is “sweaty.” I was still only lightly perspiring, though, when I made it to the benches at a downtown intersection. There were two in the shade of a tree. Both were occupied. I took the third, directly in the sun. I’d forgotten my sunglasses and was forced to squint.
I have fond memories of eating lunch with you in Toronto. We’d always take it outside. Do you remember? You would tell me to stop feeding the birds. It was amidst this variety of gulls, humans, exhaust and visible smog we would eat and comment without irony on the necessity of getting some fresh air. There’s plenty I miss about Toronto. Not the air so much. Kingston air is a cut above. There’s less to observe, but even at noon hour, I can be outside and feed in moderate privacy. I opened the takeout container, grabbed the sandwich and took my first bite in one swift motion. As I said, I was hungry.
I proceeded to eat my sandwich.
In fact, I gorged. I collapsed inward, hunching over and around it as if guarding a small, wounded animal from gale-force winds. Sometimes when I’m writing and get into a groove, I forfeit my bearings. I lose my sense of place and time. It periodically happens when I eat too. Considering the vehement approach I took in dismantling this sandwich, my empty bathtub would have been the only appropriate venue. I was sweating more now, dots collecting along my forehead. Only a minute or so in, with half the sandwich deleted, I felt something. My phone vibrated. It was a text message from a new friend in Kingston.
“Whoa, take it easy, man! That sammy doesn’t stand a chance!”
I was ripped back to the present. To the pedestrians around me, the cars, to the mustard in my beard. I looked up. Where was he? I spotted him across the street, at the window table of a café. He was sitting with a woman I didn’t recognize. Both were enjoying the display, smiling broadly. They started waving. I swallowed and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. I waved back. I clutched my second half a little less enthusiastically. I took a modest bite. My phone vibrated again. A second text, from a different pal.
“Hey, just curious, did you and your sandwich consider getting a room?”
I didn’t bother searching for the second texter. I just crossed my legs and returned to my lunch. It was too good to eat slowly. And I was committed at this point anyway.
I’m telling you all this because of your initial concern about my living and writing in Kingston. The year I left Toronto, when I moved back to live at my parents’ farm for a year, I experienced an unforeseen appreciation for the land, the house itself, the wood stove, the animals, the solitude. Everything I had when I was growing up but seemingly took for granted. I never resented living in the country, on the farm. But it was only after leaving, living away from it and returning that I developed the strong sense of appreciation I now have. The same thing is happening with Kingston, where I lived as a student. I’ve gained a distinct regard now that I’ve left and returned. You thought it might be too small a place, too lonely, especially after living in Toronto. It’s not.
Where you live is like a relationship. Outsiders, friends, even family, may not understand the appeal. Others often wonder what one person sees in another. This is absurd. Where you reside, where you call home, much like any partnership, has only two elements that matter: the two involved.
The search isn’t for perfection. It’s not even in completely understanding why you feel the way you do. It’s just in knowing and appreciating that it’s better having it, than not, be it for partner, city, or sandwich.