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A Tiger's Tale
By Buzz Burza
April, 2006, 14:27

isten, my young friends. You can become a working writer in the most extraordinary roundabout of ways. I'm a perfect case in point.

In terms of organization, my current ongoing writing jobs, which amount to three, are each arranged merely by number. As I slug the number 12 on this file, I feel a tad sad as yet another year has seemingly flitted by.

It's been a year that saw breached that terrifyingly traditional benchmark year of 65, meaning I am now working on the palindromically significant year 66. Ergo, I have 11 more to go, because I would really like to work until I'm 77. But I digress.

It seems only a short while ago that I fell, like I have so much in my life, into writing as a career of sorts. I had always written, but it was always in the form of wildly self-indulgent letters to a wildly wide-ranging circle of chums. A million-plus words remain nestled in a yard-high pile of carbon copies on a cabinet next to me. Maybe this year I'll give them a read.

That short while ago was actually the summer of 1976. I had just completed the first of a two-year furniture course at Toronto's George Brown College Kensington Market campus and was working as a butcher in a West Indian shop on the Market's main thoroughfare, Baldwin Street. I could never have known back then that I would remain intimately involved with this market of markets for another 15 years.

The mythical address, 51 Kensington, had housed several stabs at restauranteurship, until that spring's opening of what would become a legendary name in the Market Tiger's Coconut Grove. Immediately, the Jamaican snake oil salesman Tiger and I became thick as thieves and countless misadventures and excellent escapades would transpire at this hallowed hotspot.

One Saturday I walked into Tiger's for lunch to find him all aflutter. Some West Indian magazine was about to go to press and they were waiting for a review of his restaurant. He asked me if I could help. How could I say no?

I remember going into his back room with a stub of a pencil and notebook, muttering about getting myself into another jam. Within a few minutes I'd whacked the thing off and Tiger was delighted. Several weeks later I saw the printed results of my handiwork and I moved on, secure in the credibility I'd attained as a restaurant reviewer.

At this time the ill-fated lefty tabloid Toronto Clarion was coming together prior to its fall launch and Tiger's was a main gathering place for we fledgling Clarioniks. Because I had some small standing writing about food, I thought this would be my beat, so I was disappointed when the "collective" had decided I was going to write the first column about "work."

Since I was a butcher, spoketh they, and the food section was unceremoniously awarded to someone else.

At the time I really was disappointed. I didn't like cutting meat, had no intention of writing about it and adroitly palmed the job off. As the debut issue deadline approached it became apparent we were short 24 inches.

At the very last minute I was asked if the Tiger piece could go, along with a large photograph. Of course I was pleased as punch, as was Tiger, and the first issue of The Clarion hit the streets with a feature about Butcher Buzz, an ill-wrought food piece by the initial grub writer designate, and my Tiger tale.

The upshot of the whole affair was my being given the eats detail for the remainder of my time with the paper. Cheap eats soon included writing about down market bars and I was off to the races.

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Although it wasn't apparent at the time.

Buzz Burza is a freelance writer, photographer, teacher, lecturer, film actor and print distribution consultant living in New Delhi, India. Email:

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