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  • Rain, desertion, lonely towns, the scrabble life of the dispossessed, riddles, and again rain, and the emptiness filling with the sight of a defiant pink bloom. The Cowbird Cafe is in a dark thoughtful space this week. I see it and read it, and I feel a strange and powerful link, across the time zones.

    I don't know if it is the Cowbird Cafe, or the Cowbird Conference Call.

    A visual call unlike tele-meetings, a storytelling conference maybe, but here at Cowbird, the stories which are normally and usually told in the bar after the meeting, or told at the big long eats table after the meetings when the group goes out to that seafood & pasta, slightly posh but fine-okay-all right-no-tomaine-okay-if-you-get-rowdy- all-30-of-you-yes-yes-we'll bring-another-carafe-Sir-but-actually-reasonably-could-we-Sir-be-a-bit-reasonable-no-need to-talk-like-that-Sir-there-are-ladies-present restaurant, ----unlike the conference get-togethers, where the best yarns and tales and charming confessions are told in the aftermath of the reason for being there, in the afterthoughts and afterwords, the, yes, let's call it the Cowbird Conference Call, has dispensed with the damn agenda, has tossed the minutes of the last meeting out the door, has asked for no recording secretary but the ears and hearts of those present, has asked for attention, for a moment, for an hour, has made the things which we yearn for and we remember from our conferences, the stories, the looks, the scenes out the windows, the look in an eye, a bit of body language, a silent scene we observe between two people, the deep inhalation of air as we escape from the meetings for a sanity walk around the block, Cowbird has thrown the plenary session to the dogs, and yet left the connecting.

    On Tuesday afternoon, I was at the funeral of a business friend. We had known him and his wife for almost 30 years. They are Zoroastrian, from Mumbai. At the funeral, the priest all in white chanted for an hour straight. The congregation sat in pews and listened. The coffin sat opposite the priest. After, we walked around the coffin and paid our respects, touching it.

    There he was, our friend. C. The simplicity of it was immense, a faultline cleaving the charm and humour, the startling beauty of the man.

    A plain wooden coffin, the plainest. Plain rope in handles on the side. The box was set on rollers. It comes down to that. No one escapes.

    I walked across the city, home.

    I took a slightly different route, as I neared my house. I decided not to walk my habitual cruise-control grid, but to take the back alleys.

    That is something visitors might miss about Toronto. It is a modern metropolis, no doubt. But T.O. is deeply funky. It is a city formed by ancient ice age lakes draining out to the Atlantic, a city of ravines, always moving up in hills. It is a city which has a parallel city of alleys and lanes, even in the smartest business sections, even in the leafy family neighbourhoods like ours. The street view, and the lane view behind it can look like they are from different planets.

    Up I walked and the old garages and out-buildings presented themselves. As simple as wood nailed across a door, as simple as chemistry at work.

    We're feeling these things, these days, in the Cowbird Global Conference Call.

    There are times you call someone up, just to sit on the phone, and listen to them breathe. I can hear you smoking, you say.

    (Photo by Susan)
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