Lost in the Star

Faded memory: The Toronto Star Entertainment Department when I arrived in 1979

Last night I dreamed I went back to the Toronto Star newsroom again.

I step into the lobby at One Yonge Street and then take the elevator to the fifth floor. In my dream, Conrad Black is on the elevator. “Are you here to buy the Star,” I ask the newspaper mogul. “Not today,” he replies with a smile.

Leaving the elevator, I walk past the reception area. Not to worry about security. There is none. Anyone can walk into the newsroom and just about anyone does.

If you look over to the far right, there is the Entertainment Department where I worked for ten years, occupying one of the grey metal primary workstations as they called our desks in those days.

Facing Entertainment, if you look to the left, is Sports, known affectionately as the Toy Department. Next door, Entertainment, in pre-politically correct days, known, without affection, as the Pansy Patch. To the right of Entertainment is the Women’s Department. It is known as, well, the Women’s Department.

As usual, chaos reigns. There is Sid Adilman, the paper’s veteran entertainment columnist, knower of all things. He’s on the phone trying to explain to Gino Empry, Toronto’s best-known and most notorious publicist, why he didn’t get the item about Tony Bennett at the Imperial Room quite right.

Next to him, Gina Mallet, the Star’s volatile theatre critic, is in high dudgeon because her Stratford story is not on the front page of the Saturday entertainment section. Nearby, the television critic Jim Bawden—Phantom—is, as his nickname suggests, present but not really there, a curious but entirely likable chameleon at once in awe of Gina and, like the rest of us, in fear of her.

But wait—someone is missing from my dream. Ah, there he is now. Peter Goddard finally makes his entrance. He is the pop music critic and Jack of all cultural trades, rumpled, out of breath, in a hurry, my desk mate, the North Star I can cling to when navigating the various firestorms that come with surviving Canada’s largest and most demanding newspaper.

In my dream, I am lost on the vast landscape of the newsroom. Sid is yelling that we are on deadline, he needs my story. But what story does he want? The ceiling lights I always thought would kill us all glow brighter, the demands for a story, louder. The newsroom I’m lost in stretches on forever. I always wake up, of course, and after a moment realize it is just a dream.

But still…

I’ve had all sorts of adventures in the years since I left the Star, written a lot of different things, lived in a good many places. But wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, that dream keeps coming back to haunt me. It took me a long time to understand just how hardwired into my brain were those years at the Star—I probably spent more hours in that newsroom than I spent in my own home.

I thought about all this the other day as the Star closed down at One Yonge Street where it had been located for fifty years and prepared to move to new digs at a place called The Well.

A whole complicated panoply of emotions came roaring back—the small joys of daily bonding and suffering with a talented group of highly eccentric but dedicated professionals, the frustrations, the laughter, the anger, the lingering sense of failure I could never quite shake off.

I missed out on a final organized visit to the newsroom. Briefly, I was disappointed. But it was probably just as well. The newsroom that I could see from photos of the farewell event was nothing like the one I knew. Even before the end of its days, it had changed beyond anything I recognized.

So many of the people I worked with and loved back then are gone now—Sid, Gina, Bawden, and, most recently and sadly, sweet Peter. Except they aren’t. They live on… Sid demands my story. Gina is fired up about something or other. Bawden is disappearing into the ether. Goddard arrives and we exchange eyerolls—another chaotic day unfolding as it should.

It turns out I could not have gone back to the newsroom.

You see, I never left…



Author of "The Sanibel Sunset Detective" and "The Strange." Ron spends part of the year on Sanibel Island, Florida, where he writes detective novels featuring private eye Tree Callister. When he is not in Florida, he resides outside Toronto, Ontario with his wife, Kathy.

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2 comments on “Lost in the Star
  1. Joel says:

    Love that piece Ron.

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