I met an elderly man from Ireland last night on the streetcar. He noticed my hat right away and told me it was an Irish hat and in his Irish accent added that, “… All things made in Ireland are excellent.” I chuckled and agreed.
He was tall and quite thin, wearing newish black jeans 4 or 5 sizes too big that were cinched to the tightest hole of a wide black leather belt. He was practically drowning in a bright red Canadian Tire hockey jersey. I first noticed the Irishman when I got on the streetcar at Bathurst and King because his head was darting around, like he was trying to see everything that was around him for 360°. He smelled like strong soap.
He asked me if I had been to Ireland or to Dublin, where he was from. I said no, as I got closer and bent down to hear his soft voice.
He loved Dublin. He said it was where all the best things in the world were from. His bright blue eyes twinkled, and I could tell he was picturing it all in his mind. He squinted a bit, which highlighted the eczema on his face, and looked kind of like pieces of icing from a cake.
“The breakfasts were my favourite, ” he tapped my belly gently with a touch of mischievousness on his face, “you like breakfasts, don’t you? Have you ever tasted black pudding?”
“Yes, a number of times. It’s pretty tasty.”
“Aye, but I can promise you it wasn’t as good as in Dublin…” he started.
He perked up a bit, nostalgia energizing him, giving his pale, practically greenish skin tone some colour. “On Sundays, after church, I would go to the Victoria and have a good Irish breakfast . I’d walk in and the barman would say ‘I know what you want.” He would bring me black pudding, eggs, cheese and soda bread… and a pint.” He smiled , as I imagine his tastebuds relived the meal.
He then snapped out of his reverie and added, “Once there was a table of German tourists at the Victoria. With their suits. Three of them. Eating boiled eggs and toast. I told them they were having the wrong breakfast and ordered them my special. They ate it and said I was right. I told them of course I’m right, they’re in Dublin and I’m a Dubliner. They laughed and asked me if I could recommend some things they should do while in Dublin, and I offered to show them around. They were there for 10 more days and I spent most of those showing them around after I was done my work. Showing them the Dublin that isn’t in the books. On the last day they gave me 1,000 pounds and their business cards. They said if I was ever in Munich I should look them up and they’d set me up. Turns out they were diamond brokers. And that 1,000 pounds bought me a lot of Irish breakfasts.”
His nostalgia had totally taken him over by that point, his eyes watering up. He then looked me straight in the eye and said with a sense of realization “I will not ever have another Irish breakfast.”
I was at a loss for words.
He reached for my hand and asked my name. “Cam”, I told him as I shook his surprisingly strong hand. That’s when I noticed the St Michael’s Hospital bracelet.
“Cam, I was going to ask you for change. But I don’t want to anymore. Thanks.” He smiled at me, let go of my hand and zipped past me out the doors.
The people around him were still acting like he was never there. I thought that ignoring him took more effort than just listening to an old man.
- top image: me, it’s the hat in question, I shot it on the floor of my bathroom.
- background image: demeki via Flickr, with a bit of editing on my part