Wednesday, 29 August 2007
Friday July 31st, 2007
A hot sweaty day. I’m swimming in a soup of myself as I stagger through the rapidly gentrifying Toronto East neighborhood known as Leslieville. I’m going over to meet my buddy Beau (who you might remember from such stops on the burger quest as The Rivoli) and then we’re headed North to The Danforth and the next stop on The Quest: Square Boy.
Yep, time to restart The Quest. Emma and I have been out of town on a honeymoon of sorts, hanging out with her sister Thaba and Thaba’s husband Phet and their kids and other various assorted family and friends at Thaba and Phet’s house near Wiarton (home of Wiarton Willie, Canada's answer to Punxsutawney Phil.) We’ve been swimming at the beach, reading Harry Potter, eating good food, running around with the kids on the lawn... cheers to Thaba and Phet for their generous hospitality! But alas, as John Milton puts it in Paradise Lost, “All things move toward their end,” and our Wiarton vacation is no exception. So here I am, swimming through the concrete city beneath a blazing sun, still striving for that perfect burger.
I meet Beau at his house and we detour over to Value Village so Beau can drop off a load of crappy-- and I mean really crappy-- records. Then we catch the Pape bus-- which is air-conditioned, thank God-- and off we go, heading North toward The Danforth.
The bus drops us off and we start trekking Eastward. “I used to call ‘Square Boy’ ‘Burger Cube’,” Beau says, and as we walk closer I can see what he means. The restaurant is in fact a giant cube, a good example of the utilitarian architecture of the 1970s. Not quite Brutalism, but pretty damn close. ‘Square Boy’ is in a square building... makes sense. Oh, so you mean the owner wasn’t a big fan of Spongebob Squarepants? Not to my knowledge, no. But why is it called Square BOY? I envision a restaurant frequented only by stereotypical nerds from the 1950s, all tucked-in button-down shirts and thick black-rimmed glasses, calculating burger prices on their slide rules while a goateed beret-wearing hipster walks by sadly shaking his head. “Those boys are Square, man. I’m talkin’ boxed in and uptight. Real Nowheresville, Jim.”
Is that me? Am I now, after my marriage, a Square Boy? Is it time to move to the suburbs, put up a white picket fence and start waxing philosophical about lawn care? In a word, no. In two words, HELL NO. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a Square Boy. These are the people who keep the entire ball of society bouncin’ along. If everyone wanted to live like a crazy artist... well, it wouldn’t work. “Sorry, man. I’d love to fix your exploded toilet but I need to be inspired first. Hey, you mind if I borrow some of this water? I’ve got an idea for a watercolor painting. I call it... ‘Exploded Toilet.’” So here’s to The Square Boys for providing us all with Goods and yes, Services! There’s nothing wrong with being a Square Boy, but it’s just not who I am. There are many, many ways to lead your life on this planet. You do not have to accept the default. You can find your own way and negotiate your own system of living. Some time-honored traditions make sense and some do not, and we here in the Secular West have the luxury of being able to pick and choose which traditions to keep and which to kick to the curb.
Emma and I have been talking about traditions a lot recently during the run-up to the wedding. Makes sense, right? Marriage is an institution that carries a lot of cultural baggage. This baggage sinks into our heads as we grow up: this is the way A Wife acts, this is the way A Husband acts. Oop, now we’re married-- better start up the lawn mower! I suppose the important thing to keep in mind is that there is not A Husband, there are husbands and there is not A Wife, there are wives. And there, waiting for Beau and myself on the Square Boy patio, is Emma, my lovely wife.
Into the ‘Burger Cube’ we go, lining up next to the vintage (or is it fake vintage?) tabletop Galaga/Ms. Pacman arcade game. Man, that video game takes me back to the first video game I ever saw, or at least the first one I remember seeing. The year was 1981 and there it was, a Pacman tabletop game in a Pizza Inn back in Dallas. I remember being intrigued by the colors and the noise and I wish I could say that I knew right then that the world was on the cusp of a technological revolution but man, I didn’t have a clue. I was just an 8 year old kid who wanted a slice of pizza. My childhood pizza topping? You guessed it: hamburger.
Back in The Here & Now we The Burger Questers sidle up to the counter, peer at the lunch counter-style menu board and place our orders. I order a Homemade Burger with fries and a root beer and then we walk over to a lavender-colored (Lavender? Dirty Lavender? Off-Lavender? Hospital Purple?) booth and wait for our numbers to be called.
Business is boomin’: it’s around noon and Square Boy is packed with the lunch rush but our orders are ready in no time at all. working with the counterman I get my burger assembled: I point out the toppings and he piles on the pickles, onions, tomatoes, mustard, ketchup and mayo. Back at the booth I lift the bun and take a gander. Big burger, nicely grilled, on a toasted sesame seed bun. I dig in. The First Bite: The Square Boy burger doesn’t have that extra-beefy extra-smoky charcoal-grilled flavor I love, but it is still a great diner-style burger. The bun is a bit too big for the patty but the toppings are nice and fresh. No wilted pickles here. We eat our food and drink our drinks and then it is time to go back out into the punishing summer heat, smiles on our faces and our bellies full.