Tag Archives: Toronto

Shamone (Part 2)

We had veered off the TransCanada highway ages ago, deciding instead to follow the backroads that lined the providence – a network of ragged capillaries that spread out and fed the small places that dotted the landscape.

(There’s more of them than you’d think, these places; places such as these.)

Places that could not rightly be said to compare to the big places elsewhere, but which offered a break from the monotony of the road, nonetheless.

Places whose existence by the wayside remained contingent on their ability to attract the curious, the eager and the weary, and to capture their attention for just long enough, for that crucial moment, or two.

Places whose particular claim to fame included tours of forsaken industry (mines, factories, mills), offerings of historic (or historical) points of interest (a fort, a trading post, the birthplace of some local notable, fictional or otherwise), and (my favourite) roadside attractions toting otherworldly monuments invoking hometown character or charm, standing resolutely in place and steadfastly against time. The quirky, the bizarre, the aberrant, unabashed, on full display, for all the world to see:

WITNESS! Bow Island’s orange-footed, sheriff-hatted, cartoon-faced statue of one “Pinto MacBean,” smile askance, holstered gun at the ready, gloved hand a great, keyhole-shaped oven mitt forever waving to passersby. Erected 1992 to signify “the importance of the dry edible bean industry to the area” (so says Pinto’s commemorative plaque).

 SEE! The World’s Largest Dinosaur in Drumheller. Purportedly the largest. I never verified (it’s not the kind of thing you verify). A nominal fee lets you climb the staircase embedded in this T-Rex’s fiberglass flesh so that you can peer out of her open mouth at people standing not all that far below (you can then, like Pinto, wave to them). Erected in 2000, she stands 25 meters tall and can fit up to 12 people in her mouth at a time.

 EXPERIENCE! The (slightly deranged) whimsy of the stuffed and mounted rodents at Torrington’s World Famous Gopher Hole Museum. The critters are plentiful, and are outfitted in cute little costumes as they engage in various hometown activities, like going to church, frequenting the local pool hall, or street brawling with animal rights activists. Admission also just a nominal fee away (two dollars, but that’s 2009 pricing). Established 1996.

 Witness! See! Experience! Between work, between school, between the responsibilities and expectations of everyday life, between us, we had all the time in the world to explore these places; places such as these where MJ had manifestly refused to materialize.

Now, though.

I found myself quietly singing along here and there as the pavement rolled on under the rusting carriage of Terry’s ancient Corolla, and there was nothing much else to do but stare up, into that enormous Alberta sky, out there, at clouds as big mountain ranges and a blue so intense it made you feel somehow flattered, and somewhat ashamed.

Stephen woke up with a start, then drifted off to sleep again. He kept doing that, never fully waking, not entirely sleeping. It got to be unnerving. “More MJ?” he asked. “Still MJ?” he breathed, then dozed.

Mae pulled back from the window and tilted her head towards the radio.

Terry drove.

No. Nothing much else to do at all but surrender to the vastness ahead and MJ’s omnipresence within, hovering over us, god-like, and with such measured indifference for all his omnipotence that always seemed to me prerequisite to being one amongst the gods.

The songs flowed, one after another as Terry flipped blithely from station to station, managing somehow to prompt no apparent break in the music, failing to rouse a voice from the ether to break the spell and confirm or deny what it was (whatever it was) that was happening.

The whole world has to answer right now, just to tell you once again,

Don’t want to see no blood, don’t be a macho man,

Cause we danced on the floor in the round,

Inside a killer thriller tonight,

A crescendo, Annie.

Celebrity, unleashed! MJ in all his glory, in all his incarnations, from Off The Wall (1979), to Bad (1987), to Dangerous (1991) and HIStory (1995), and on to Invincible (2001).

Thriller (1982).

We should have known.

But since we were drifting anyway, and with no particular destination in mind as the towns blurred together and it became difficult to know for certain which name belonged to which place, which attraction meant what, and to whom, it was, admittedly, kind of nice to have something familiar along for the ride.

We found the Birds of Prey Sanctuary more than we discovered it. Just east of Lethbridge, off Highway #3. Established 1982.

The clerks inside the gift shop were friendly and politely curious. Attentive in the way that clerks are when the arrival of patrons means a long-awaited reprieve from the dusting of pristine shelves and the wiping down of spotless countertops.

“Where you from?” one of them asked.

Terry and Mae and Stephen answered easily. “Ottawa,” they said. “Thunder Bay.” I hesitated, and then answered “Toronto” and then we watched as the clerks’ faces changed accordingly, as if something had fallen into place for them. I suppose they took that as their right. I guess, anyway, that it was at least their prerogative. This is such a big country.

It was by now late afternoon.

Did they not know about MJ?

“Toronto, eh?”

***

We stopped at a place not too far from the sanctuary for dinner. It was famous for its Italian-Canadian fare (that’s what the guy at the gas station said), but it was particularly prized for its gigantic pizza bread: great slabs of hot dough, the rough size and heft of a decorative pillow, leaden with shredded, multicoloured cheese and finished off with a spray of light green parsley not at all unlike the trimmings fired from the backend of a lawnmower.

(The description above, I assure you, does not do justice to the taste).

We settled in, ushered to a booth by an unnamed hostess. Someone looked up.

And there he was again.

Only this time a vision dancing in perfect synchronization with his sister, Janet, in the legendary Scream video, two figures effortlessly swaying, pop-locking and pivoting in zero gravity on a screen affixed to an unassuming corner of the dining room, close (but not too close) to the bathrooms.

“Look!”

The Incomparable Jacksons. The Immaculate MJ. Just east of Lethbridge, off Highway #3.

“Here too!” exclaimed Terry, pointing, eyes no longer heavy-lidded.

Our server, a man with a shining forehead, thick arms and little patience, may have heard the urgency in Terry’s voice. We were, if memory serves, agog. Certainly, I was and Stephen too.

“Don’t you know?” barked the server, snapping us to attention. “You don’t know?” he added more gently when he realized he had it. “He died. Michael Jackson’s dead.” He eventually left us with our food, carefully arranging it before us on the heavy, water-stained table.

“Died?” echoed Mae. “Dead?” she said, tasting the words.

Despite everything, given everything he had been and done and had become, MJ had never done that, never been that before.

It shouldn’t have been possible: Michael Jackson was dead.

Pinto MacBean, however, remained.

Remains.

Annie are you okay? Will you tell us that you’re okay?

It should not have been possible: something of the permanence of life as we knew it had shifted under our feet and left us stumbling for purchase. As sudden as it was, therefore, absurd. It was more than enough.

It was time to go home.

Time to head back and, if possible, redeem ourselves.

“I’ll drive,” Terry said finally, attempting a laugh around a mouthful of bread.

 

END

 

 

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The Quick and the Dead

“Books are dead!” proclaimed my guest, who wasn’t really a guest as a surprise visitor who came in with one of my actual guests. He was just that type, just the sort of person to do just that, just to give you an idea.

It is my fault for letting him in, I know. Though I do not take responsibility for his behaviour. That would be asking too much, I think. It would be expecting the whole world.

Books are dead!” he cried out again, after I faltered in my response, not knowing exactly what he was getting at (but also noting all the books we have weighing down the shelves and invading the little free spaces of our tiny apartment).

I read for work,” he continued. Incredible. There was an aura of self-induced triumph about him.

And that’s what made me think of the boy.

It was a Saturday morning and the subway car was, as usual, overcrowded – Stephen and I and quite a few others were jammed up close, near a young boy and his mother, who were seated but nonetheless closed in with the rest of us.

The mother sat by the window, the boy sat towards the aisle.

“Eee-er-rect? Ee-rect-a?” said the boy.

His mother ruefully shook her head, but did not discourage him. She smiled to herself and then at us as her son struggled with the ad hanging tantalizingly above our heads, its message as yet a mystery to his young mind.

“Dis-disfunct. Dis-func-sia-in,” he enunciated, carefully, loudly, heedlessly.

We waited. Stephen and I, the boy’s mother and the boy, and the half dozen people to our immediate left and right in that moment became a coterie, a clique, an inner circle facing out. The world be damned.

The boy continued: “E-rect-tile. Erectile! Dis…dysfunct-dysfunction!”

There was so much laughter threatening in that moment to break through. The boy’s mother congratulated him – sincerely, proudly – on his having mastered two very difficult words. Who would dare laugh then, and spoil everything?

And then the boy asked, pointing to the ad: “What is it?”

His mother looked at him. She looked at us. She looked out the window. “Ask your father,” she deadpanned.

So much laughter then, the boy’s merging with ours and I think, not because he understood his mother’s exquisite joke or deft delivery, but because, together, they had elicited a moment of joy out of the drudgery of the everyday. His mother laughed as she pulled him to her, beaming.

“Books are dead.” “I read for work.”

I guess what I’m saying is this:

I wish the boy and his mother had shown up at my house instead.

 

 

 

 

 

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Points of Convergence (Repertoire of a 6:00AM Commute)

There was a time when my morning commute meant a pre-dawn commute before the commute. It required taking a very early bus to the subway, to another bus, and then to a station where I met up with my Work Crew for what was then another 30-to-90-minute drive to site, wherever it happened to be that day.

***

The Very Early Bus arrived at around 6:00AM and the stop was about a 10-minute walk from my house.

Now. There was my Work Crew, whom I saw every day, and then there was my Commute Crew, with whom I also had a specialized relationship (they being the first faces of the new day, which placed my Work Crew in a close, yet distant second).

 

There was really no comparison:

 

  1. Leather Jacket Motorcycle Man. The jacket was of a rich, heavy leather. It had shoulder armour (impressive!) and fit him perfectly; less like a glove and more like a second skin. I never saw a motorcycle helmet. I never saw a motorcycle. Seemed unnecessary, maybe even over-the-top.
  2. The Old Timer. He must have lived close; his stop was only one away from mine. We could have been neighbours, though I never saw him in the street. He was quite, if not rather, elderly, perhaps even venerated.
  3. Army Gent. Over the weeks I watched him go from civvies and duffle bag to full-on uniform: beret, Canadian Flag patched prominently on his camo jacket; shining, immaculate boots. And duffle bag. He looked rather dashing, set. He smiled often, and not unkindly.
  4. Mr. Hard Hat. The yellow hat was sometimes worn on this man’s squarish head or on his heavy belt and sometimes it was nestled securely in his lap. He never took his gaze off the middle distance. His hours were probably as bad (if not worse) than mine. He sat tall, and primly, regardless.
  5. Lady Grey. She and The Old Timer were friends (or maybe neighbours – there’s a difference sometimes). She helped him off the bus. She reminded me of Tea Time. She carried a big shoulder bag looped over her small torso. Sometimes it appeared heavy and overloaded, as if it were full of bricks or hard drives. Other times, it was so empty it swung chaotically around her, like a siren. Maybe she kept tea in there? It seemed full of promises. She and The Old Timer sometimes talked animatedly (though quietly) with each other, but I didn’t ever catch a word of their conversation. Why spoil a good thing?

 

The Subway was usually empty at that hour, or it was full of people still clinging to or retreating back towards the last vestiges of sleep (including me). It was warmer, roomier, quieter there: you could be totally alone. It was easy. Can you blame us?

The Another Bus was not without its charm. For example: The Man With the Scruffy Dog He Kept Inside His Jacket. For example: The Woman Who Cut Her Fingernails At the Back of the Bus. For example: The Bad Hermit. But by that time of day, the riders were more diffuse, more varied. I never kept close track of them.

The Station had the Steel Drums Man. By then, it was about an hour into my morning commute to my commute (sometimes longer if traffic was bad). Whatever time I arrived, he was there, playing away on a set of steel drums in the vast corridor connecting the buses and the subway, near but not too close to the escalators leading to daylight. The perfect spot.

After a while I realized that he was playing the same set of songs every day, day after day. I realized then as I remain sure now that it could not have been otherwise: they were nice, and he was very good at them. He made them sing. 1) Seeing the Steel Drums Man and 2) hearing him play meant that 3) I had made it (for another day at least). One more day at least. No small feat, by any measure.

***

My commute before the commute went on for months, until there came a time when work was scarce and I was laid-off from the company for the winter. In the spring, I walked to take the Very Early Bus again.

The bus driver recognized me immediately.

“Where have you been?” he cried. Each word was almost its own sentence, its own question: Where. Have. You. Been?

It felt good, if not right (not really) to be there again, with my fellow pre-dawn commuters. Sometimes you don’t need all that much to count on, and the extras you do get don’t make up for anything but themselves.

I saw Motorcycle Man, The Old Timer, and Lady Grey, though there were a few new faces I didn’t recognize.

If anyone was missing, I’m sure they had their reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Inklings

 
The headlines have it: “Rob Ford,” they say, “Toronto’s Crack-Smoking Mayor”.
 

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford
 

In the month of November our Crack-Smoking Mayor has denied smoking crack, admitted to smoking crack (possibly during one of his “drunken stupors”), lost his radio show (hosted with his doppelganger brother), gained and lost a television show (also hosted with his brother and cancelled after one rant-soaked episode), admitted to drinking and driving, got himself uninvited to Toronto’s annual Christmas parade, and knocked over a fellow councilmember during a meeting when he thought he saw his brother under attack during a near-mêlée they incited on the council floor (by insulting and video taping and otherwise intimating public spectators), and in which he mocked another councilor, who was caught drinking and driving by police, by miming (that councilor?) drinking and driving and crashing his car.

There are allegations of prostitution at City Hall. Allegations of sexual harassment. Allegations of public intoxication.  A video of a crazed and babbling Ford making apparent death threats toward an invisible enemy.

There is a photo of public urination.

Referring allegations made in a police document that he made lewd comments to a former staff member (yes, he’s being investigated by police), Ford said during a press conference that:
 

“It says I wanted to eat her pussy and I have never said that in my life to her. I would never do that. I’m happily married and I’ve got more than enough to eat at home.”
 

That’s a quote.  Emphasis added.

The investigation, by the way, is on-going.

He lost his most of his powers as Mayor during that meeting. He also referred to himself as “Kuwait”.

Yet.

Rob Ford is still a political force, is still popular, is still (reduced powers notwithstanding) the mayor (crack smoking notwithstanding) of the Great City of Toronto.

The Great City that is Toronto.

Theories abound as to the question, almost heartbreaking, of why.

Why?
 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
 

Why, why, why?

Rick Mercer – Canada’s answer, after a fashion, to America’s John Stewart and, to an even lesser fashion, America’s Stephen Colbert – is right to the point: forget about Rob Ford and look at the politics.

Rob Ford’s politics are very real, the fact being that the people who voted for Rob Ford are saying “we would rather have a guy on crack than a mayor who will raise our taxes.”

Mercer, ever astute, exorcizes Rob Ford, the man – Rob Ford, the mayor even – for the distraction that he is.
 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
 

But Rob Ford, I believe, is a symptom – our collective blurred vision, a shared dizziness, an engorged cyst – of something else, and not just pragmatism born of increasing frustration with existing political systems.

Something in the ether that is not about unfulfilled dreams or about broken promises, but about a kind evolving political consciousness.

That Thing we call Democracy.

What the hell?

The rule of the many over the few? 50% + 1? The words freedom and justice and opportunity come up again and again.

On these, David Foster Wallace makes a compelling argument when speaking about John McCain’s simple promise during the 2008 primaries not to lie to voters:
 

“Well, it’s obvious why. When McCain says it, the people are cheering for him not so much as for how good it feels to believe him. They’re cheering the loosening of a wired sort of knot in the electoral tummy. McCain’s resume and candor, in other words, promise not empathy with voters’ pain but relief from it. Because we’ve been lied to and lied to, and it hurts to be lied to. It’s ultimately just about that complicated: it hurts. We learn this at like age four… And we keep learning for years, from hard experience, that getting lied to sucks – that it diminishes you, denies you respect for yourself, for the liar, for the world” (2006: 188 – 189).
 

It hurts.

Then there’s the shame, social and acceptable. Trendy.

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

GET OUT THE VOTE.

“Vote or die.”

VOTE OR DIE

If only you cared.

If only you were informed.

If only you wanted to participate.

If only you would just participate.

If only you would be good.

I am paraphrasing.
 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
 

Russell Brand has shaken people recently with his own democratic convictions:
 

“I have never voted. Like most people I am utterly disenchanted by politics. Like most people I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites… I don’t vote because to me it seems like a tacit act of compliance; I know, I know my grandparents fought in two world wars (and one World Cup) so that I’d have the right to vote. Well, they were conned. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing to vote for.”
 

In a political system that above all else must bend to the will of the people, can it be said that choosing whether to vote or not vote is in itself an expression of the will of the people?

And if not voting is a political choice – in the sense that choosing not to act is in itself a choice – and if more and more people (the majority?) are not voting, isn’t that, in a word, democratic?

And if it hurts to engage in a failed and alienating and bloated and increasingly hostile political system, what does “getting out the vote” amount to, really, and for whom?
 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
 

This is what a guy at work said about Rob Ford, the day on November 18th, 2013, when Toronto’s city council stripped Mayor Rob Ford of (most) his powers.
 

“Yo, say what you want about Ford. But those other politicians sounded so high and mighty when they were talking about him. They were talking down to him! At least he doesn’t sound like that when he’s talking back. He sounds normal.”
 

Rob Ford: the man of the people. He drops the “g” in words like “fighting”, “working”, “looking” (as in “out for the little guy”).

He refers to voters both as “the taxpayer” and “the little guy”.

In her thinking of her hometown – Youngstown, Ohio – Eileen Kane writes of another “champion of the little man” (2010: 232), James Traficant, Youngstown sheriff from 1980 – 1984 who gained local admiration for refusing to serve the eviction notices that followed the closing of the Youngstown’s mills, which put thousands of residents out of work and left them unable to pay their mortgages.

In 1983, Traficant was charged (and acquitted) of taking Mafia bribes, after confessing to taking Mafia bribes. In 1984, Traficant (a Democrat) was elected into the House of Representatives, and managed to keep this seat through eight subsequent elections in which he won an overwhelming majority (almost 70%) of the vote.

Traficant was loud, abrasive, angry, openly mocked for his cheap suits and dreadful toupee; his behavior was so abhorrent and bizarre that “[h]is own local Democratic chairman once tries (and fails) to have him declared legally insane” (Kane 2010: 232).

 

James Traficant

 

Here is a quote from James Traficant (August 3, 1998, Congressional Record 105th Congress, 1997 – 1998):
 

“Mr. Speaker, a new report says only 7 percent of scientists believe in God. That is right. And the reason they gave was that the scientists are `super smart.’ Unbelievable. Most of these absent-minded professors cannot find the toilet.  Mr. Speaker, I have one question for these wise guys to constipate over: How can some thing come from no thing?  And while they digest that, Mr. Speaker, let us tell it like it is. Put these super-cerebral master debaters in some foxhole with bombs bursting all around them, and I guarantee they will not be praying to Frankenstein. Beam me up here. My colleagues, all the education in the world is worthless without God and a little bit of common sense. And I yield back whatever we have left.”
 

Traficant served another nine terms in the House before being “convicted in 2002 of racketeering, taking bribes from the Mafia, obstruction of justice, tax evasion, and such assorted mischief as using on-the-clock public employees as farm hands on his horse ranch” (Kane 2010: 232 – 233).

Everything, it seems, but smoking crack.

Rob Ford has been accused of using on-the-clock public employees to help him coach football and to get his liquor and dry-cleaning.

He has confessed to smoking crack.

But Rob Ford also de-railed Toronto’s so-called “gravy train”, the excessive and indulgent spending many residents saw plaguing City Hall. He purged Toronto of the hated vehicle registration tax, and promised absolutely not to raise taxes…or at the absolute most and only as an absolute last resort, to raise taxes by very, very, very little. He pays for his own trips, even though they are for city business. He personally returns phone calls (from supporters) and, along with his entourage, visits constituents in their own homes and neighborhoods. He appears to have brought (though not “built” as he has claimed on American TV) subways, finally, to the suburbs.

As for Traficant, he supported increasing the minimum wage at a time when everyone was losing or had lost their jobs. He voted against illegal immigration and free trade and – most important of all for Youngstown – he held an open distain for the feds and large corporations, the very institutions that many Youngstown residents believed had abandoned them.

According to Kane, the people who supported Traficant “believed one thing: Traficant was on their side. And the forces they hate were out to get him” (Kane 2010: 233).

Hard to ask for much more that that.
 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
 

Be honest. Rob Ford cannot claim to be an original, and neither can James Traficant. The name Marion Barry comes to mind.

The name George W. Bush comes to mind.

So that when figures like James Traficant or Marion Barry or Rob Ford come into power, this has not all that much to do with them as persons.

Should it come as any surprise that “the people”, who been a means to the ends of someone else’s career, someone else’s ambitions, someone else’s benefit, someone else’s goddamn photo op, have decided (perhaps finally) that it should be the other way around?

It is really so incredible that the people who voted overwhelmingly to send Rob Ford into office are, as a recent article in The Atlantic points out, the non-white, educated, working poor?  The very people who tend to get hurt a lot in all areas concerning “democracy”.  The very people who, vote or not vote, have not that much to gain.

Or lose.
 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
 

Put another way:

It helps that Rob Ford comes off as a regular guy who is his words, is “not perfect”, who is “only human”. But it is not necessary.

It helps that people want to believe him when he says “I’m the best mayor Toronto’s has ever had,” or even “I’m the best father around,” but it is not necessary.

It helps that he promises not to lie, but it is not necessary.

It would be nice if he didn’t bully people or be an asshole, but it is not necessary.

He hurts himself, and others sometimes, but he is on side.

When somebody hurts you, you hurt them back. You use whatever’s available.

It’s not perfect.

It’s only human.

It’s democracy in action.
 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
 

A recent poll finds that approximately 42% of Torontonians surveyed still support Rob Ford as mayor.

Of those surveyed, about 60% believe that Rob Ford should resign as mayor of Toronto.

The Great City of Toronto.

What are we to make of that?

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

References

Foster, David Wallace. (2006). “Up, Simba,” in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays. Little, Brown and Company: New York.

Kane, Eileen. (2010). Trickster: An Anthropological Memoir. University of Toronto Press: North York, Ontario.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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What Canadians Mean When We Say…

… Sorry*

 

  • Excuse my behaviour and/or poor judgment.
  • Say that again, please. I require clarification.
  • I didn’t hear you. Please repeat.
  • I do not mean to offend.
  • My fault!
  • Please like me.
  • I want to made amends.
  • I’m reluctant.
  • I disagree.
  • You are out of line.
  • What is happening?
  • I don’t like this.
  • No.
  • Let me mull this over a while.
  • Are we still friends?
  • I’m leaving.
  • Over here!
  • I hate myself.YOU
  • Respectfully, no.
  • Seriously, make me.
  • Bored now.
  • Hello.
  • I should, but I won’t.
  • No fair!
  • I am out of line.
  • Whatever! Maybe.
  • I’m exhausted.
  • Mic check, mic check.
  • Welcome!
  • I’m uncomfortable.
  • Motherfucker.
  • I do mean to offend.
  • You caught me.
  • This is happening??
  • Goodbye.
  • I don’t know.
  • That’s perverse.
  • Please stop.
  • End. Of. Discussion.
  • Oh, hell no!
  • I want to, but I can’t.
  • Shit.
  • OK. But what now?
  • There was a pause in the conversation.
  • I do not need this in my life right now.
  • You are behaving suspiciously.
  • Exclude me from your plans.
  • Acknowledge me.
  • I want something from you.
  • YOUR FACE.
  • I am interrupting and I apologize, but I’d like to interject.
  • Do shut up.
  • I am in the right.
  • Ain’t nobody got time for that!
  • This is pointless, but go on.
  • I did hear you, but I do not understand.
  • You should know!
  • I am not listening.
  • This is your fault.
  • I will now invalidate your existence.
  • Yo.
  • I got too excited.
  • You are in the way.
  • Am I in the way?
  • Which way is it?
  • Get out of the way.
  • We’re closing soon.
  • You have a point, but I don’t care.
  • How disappointing.
  • Word.
  • I love you.
  • You lost me.
  • That’s a lie.
  • I just don’t care.
  • I am not sorry.

Mayor Not Sorry 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
*My friend, Anna, once talked about the “niceness” of Canadians and how, in her experience, this being nice – describing other people, places, and situations as nice, nice nice (i.e. “He seems nice”, “the Prime Minister is doing a nice job”, “What a nice office”, “It was nice”) and saying sorry, sorry, sorry all the time – is just a highly-toned yet mostly unconscious form of passive aggression.

Anna, I’m sorry.
 
 
 

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Baggage Claims

 
Here’s a quick one, and it comes as a warning:

Hey!

Those guys at the airport at the baggage claim for international flights? The ones dressed vaguely like ice-cream men or low-level cops, with neutral ties and short-shelved dress shirts. Beware of those guys. Be wary.

This is how they do: they come up to people. Certain people, especially. Ethic people, really. The people who may not know, exactly, precisely, how to get by in an altered reality. Strangers in a strange land. Or people who look it, anyway, and/or especially those travelling alone. Maybe you, definitely me, my mom in particular.

Then they go like this: “Hello ma’am. How are you? Hey. You got booze in those bags of yours? You got meat or fruit or animal skins or poppin’ pills or anything else? Things that would make customs tsk, tsk, tsk at you and cause you all sorts of embarrassment? Little special somethings for you or your family or your friends to enjoy from the homeland? Then come with me! With me carrying those bags of yours for you, there are no worries for you. They will not check those bags of yours if you are with me! No? You don’t have any naughties in those bags of yours? You’ve got all the receipts? All the paperwork? Crossed your “t’s” and dotted your “i’s”, hmm? You know how it works here, eh? You sure? You can never be sure. Now come with me!”

They take your bags, before you or me or my mom in particular can stop them. Exasperated, tired from a long flight, you acquiesce. There is no other word for this: acquiesce.

Then they parade you or me or my mom in particular out, past the gates, to arrivals, through the waiting crowds, past the crowds, past arrivals. Outside. Outside into the chilly night air where there are not so many people, even less paying any kind of attention. Today, customs did not intervene, but it’s plain to see that others, others accompanied by Baggage Men like him have, indeed, been stopped.

Then: “You see? No trouble at all! Here are your bags! $30 dollars, now.”

Maybe you or me or my mom in particular on this Saturday night (August 10, 2013), exasperated, tired from a long flight, lonely and disoriented, have had enough of enough all goddamn fucking ready and say NO.

Then they do like this: a step back in mild shock. A step forward in hard cajoling. A little foot stamping. An accusatory finger pointed at your heavy, heavy baggage.

“Hey, now. I helped you, now. I helped you with those bags of yours. Quick now. $30 dollars, no one the wiser, see.”

Desperate now more then ever for home, with this stranger in your face, in your space, suddenly decidedly very unhelpful if not ever kind, you or me but especially my mom just give him the last $20 dollar bill you have, just to make him go far away.

He is far from satisfied. He demands his last 10 dollars but vanishes very, very quickly back into the busy lights of the airport once the words “…speak to your supervisor” cut into that chilly night air.

But then he already has the money.

No lies. Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. Be very wary.

I should probably call someone.
 

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Sedimental

Stratigraphy of the heart.

In my chest, beats the heart of a geologist. Or maybe it's a rock.

I imagine the same person at different times with different pens.

Sediments!

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The Great Giant Snowman Hunt 2011

Winter.  Toronto.  And the streets are right now home to a certain free-range whimsy known as Torontoland and embodied by 8 foot tall GIANT SNOWMEN.

All for a good cause, even: for every photo of you captured posing with a snowman that is sent to the Torontoland website, $2 will be donated to the Starlight Children’s Foundation Canada.

YES.

It all began on Facebook.  Not in the “social media is connecting us WOW what an age” kind of way.  More of a “I have a friend who’s too lazy to call or email but who is in the know about super cool things like Torontoland.”

Here is what she wrote:

OMG Who wants to do this?!?! We’ll get a TTC daypass and hop around the city looking for them! SO FUN! Anyone? Anyone? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease!

Here is how this story starts:

It already has.

Here is how it ends:

We find the Snowmen but, alas, not all.  Sad face 😦

Here is the stuff that happens around the middle:

There’s a part with FREE ice cream.  Happiness 🙂

This is not a story that is art critique in bad disguise.  My stance on art is that I love it. So there? This is a story about a bunch of people galavanting through big city nights, having gadabouts.  This is a story of The Hunt.

Here we go!

1. The Jingle Inn by TADO – The Beaches

Artist: TADO

The Jingle Inn

This Snowmen should have been a clue or, perhaps, a harbinger of things to come.  Stephen and I took Lou to see The Jingle Inn in the morning because it’s on our end of town. What a 2 foot dachshund thinks of an 8 foot snowman I do not know but Lou, in his own Lou way, seemed to appreciate the humungous “not food” Thing we had dragged him to.

It was, actually, luck of a sort that we even found The Jingle Inn.  The online map we consulted listed TADO’s work in the middle of a rather large park that turned out to be a good-sized ravine that turned out to be closed off to the public, which turned out to be full of poo and wood chips when we ignored the caution tape in favour of a look-see.  We followed it up and down and finally, with a dog covered in burs and mud and poo and failure, we called it quits.

It was mad trickery, but in giving up we found success: The Jingle Inn magically appeared at the opposite edge of the park as we trudged our way towards Queen Street East.  The antithesis edge, because I like fancy pants words sometimes.

The Jingle Inn is a work by artists Mike and Katie who, according to the Torontoland website, are “two happy and rather small people who stay up too late, work too much and drink too much coffee”.  They “aspire to one day own a zoo of miniature animals.”

I believe that.

2. Yule Zones by Patrick Kyle – Nathan Phillips Square

Artist: Patrick Kyle

Yule Zones

It took a short bus ride and a longish subway commute to get to our agreed upon hunting grounds.  Stephen – being a real adult with a job and all – went back to work, while I – in all my nojobness – was free to carry on.  Still, up until I left, I had waffled back and forth on whether I should even join The Hunt at all.  In the end, I decided to go because it was becoming such a decision to decide whether or not to go.

The Path of Least Resistance triumphs again.

The Plan: start in downtown Toronto and meander south then north to bag our snowman prey.

As I arrived – late as always (I blame my poor upbringing?) – at Nathan Phillips Square (a.k.a. the skating rink/fountain/no man’s land that forms that front of Raccoon City’s City Hall), it occurred to me that I was a bit of a tag-along.  This was my friend, Rosena’s, brilliant brain child after all, and I was the last among her friends to sign up.

Luckily, the people I know know people I would like to know, and three sets of eyes are better than one.

People seemed to love this Snowmen, Patrick Kyle’s Yule Zones, but a little too much at that.  Its nose had been torn off and re-plastered.  It was a ramshackle job that just about did the trick. But the lady who tried the inevitable though crowd-pleasing “grabbing the snowman’s nose” pose didn’t know that, and it was a giddy thrill to see her face crest with abject horror as she very nearly tore off the yule from Yule.  We laughed.  She…ran away.

It was glorious.

3.  Native Muskokan Chickadee by Melinda Josie

Artist: Melinda Josie

Native Muskokan Chickadee

A short jaunt from City Hall and we found ourselves standing next to Toronto-based artist Melinda Josie’s Native Muskokan Chickadee.  An “ode to Canadian winter”, in all its thick wool, hot, hot cocoa and mitted goodness, the title alone validated my ornithological know-it-all-ism as I had long identified the bird as (indeed!) a chickadee, while others – who I can only surmise must have had lazy biology teachers and/or had succumbed to Dreamworks fantasy making – thought the bird was a penguin.

But penguins aren’t chickadees.

Chickadees can fly.  Like real birds.  Penguins, from what I can surmise, kind of…waddle around in a pudgy, clumsy, futile parade of intelligent design.

Or maybe it’s a pageant.

Who knows?

4.  Dusty Rose by CP+B

Artist: CP+B

Dusty Rose

Wow.  This picture was taken a little after 4:30PM and look how dark it got already.  It was also here, outside Roy Thompson Hall, that we encountered a scalper, stocky and thick knuckled, who coughed “Justin Bieber! Justin Bieber! Ticketstojustinbeiber!” every time he thought he saw us look askew him him.  Which was a lot because it was like, “what is he saying? What about The Biebs???”

A Vicious Circle.

The Snowman is CP+B’s kick-ass, Dusty Rose. I did not intellectually know this at the time but according to CP+B, “Dusty Rose likes to consider herself the Patron Snowman of Torontoland. Her nine faces have seen many things, from the famous Leafs’ playoff runs of the ’90s to the Great Blackout of ’03. But she’d trade it all for the ability to cozy up to a rolling fire, hot cocoa in hand, without turning into a giant pink puddle.”

But, of course, I knew all of this the minute I gazed upon Her.

In my heart.

5. Snowtem by Mark Gervais

Artist: Mark Gervais

Snowtem

As we made our way from Roy Thompson Hall to the base of the CN tower (about a 15 minute walk), we passed an older gentlemen in that space wedged between the tower and the Skydome, who was walking his chocolate lab puppy, ingeniously named “Coco”.  The man had a face I and disposition I would describe as “craggily”, while the dog was puppy gregarious.  It had a love on for people you would not believe – its owner had quite the time pulling it away from the company of total strangers.

As he dragged poor Coco to yet another heel, I thought “How can such a sour man have such a sweet dog?” and realized that the answer was contained in the question.

Animals, man.

Snowtem Snowman (top to bottom: Snowy Owl, Lynx and Walrus) is the creation of Regina born artist, Mark Gervais.  It may be my favourite Giant Snowman.

Why?

Animals, man!  Snowy Owl, Lynx and Walrus.  In face form!  Have you ever seen a face – any face –  so lush and vibrant and vivid anywhere in your whole life?

So much better than Mr. Craggily.

6. Niji Family by APAK

Artist: APAK

Niji Family

It was as we entered Union Station and hopped a streetcar to the waterfront that things got tricky and the harbingers from the morning, um, harbinged.  Rosena had scribbled intersections where our quarry were to be found, but by now it was of little use: we found the spot but not the snowman.  Stephen had printed me a pdf. map listing snowman locations, but it was at best vague and at worst a total effing mindfuck: what is the use, after all, of a map with no sense of scale? Where major streets are but mere suggestions and snowmen are the size of landmarks are the size of city blocks?

By the way, Rosena, where IS "Chest Street" anyway??

No Effing Way.

It was at that point that we ducked into the Harbourfront Centre (located in front of the ice rink where our snowman was supposed to be) and asked the information guy for help.  We even showed him our “map”.

His words: “I don’t know where THE HELL this [loud thumb jabbing on snowman icon] is supposed to be!  Where is this?!”  He suggested going east, back toward the way we came. “I dunno.  It might be by the Second Cup, over on the next pier.  Maybe.”

So we found it was, after a bit of fumbling around in the dark and the wet.  The centrepiece of a cobblestone spotlight.

Niji Family! Crafted by the husband and wife duo, APAK (Aaron Piland + Ayumi Kajikawa Piland, see?).  I see this snowman and I dream of Better Days.  If Stephen and I ever get married, I hope we’ll make a fantastical snowman like this of our very own (this is not a metaphor for a baby).

7. ilavskan Porenut by Noel Middleton

Artist: Noel Middleton

lavskan Porenut

Back on the streetcar and into Union Station where our sexy snowmen threesome became a full-on snowmen posse with the addition of another of Rosena’s cool friends.  Three girls, one guy, four pairs of glasses.

GAME ON.

also:

LEVEL UP!

Amid Rosena’s exclamations of, “Oh my god. Gender!” (as in stereotypes? she was looking at a bus stop ad that featured, I think, a tomato wearing a piece of bow tie pasta as a bow tie and a mushroom wearing the pasta as a bow on “her” head), and our growing conviction that the snowmen were becoming harder to find on purpose now came the realization that the snowmen were, in fact, more difficult to find.  From King Street Station, we ran around the St. Lawrence Market area (Yonge and Wellington Streets), desperately using eyeballs and smart-phones to locate our precious snowman.

Not having a smartphone, I stood there, eyeballing.

Then, amid the twinkly lights of Berczy Park and after nearly getting run over by double lane traffic, we found him (on a street he was supposed not to be).

ilavskan Porenut by Noel Middleton

And now the story of ilavskan Porenut (quoted from the Torontoland website):

“In a wooden temple, closeted from the encroaching elementals, sat the four-faced ilavskan Porenut. Seated and quiet in his wooden womb, he tirelessly conjured counter-charms from the Book of Veles, swaying the winds and brilliantly charging the thunderclouds.”

A tirelessly, brilliantly charging Snowman.

He may also be my favourite.

Back (again) to Union Station to catch the northbound subway. Rosena’s friend from Nathan Phillips Square bid us adieu at the Yonge/Bloor Station, thus bringing our posse to an all femme three.

A quick stop at the Eaton Centre food court (Crazy Burger! Sesame Chicken Combo! Big Mac ‘N Fries!), and off it was, back out in the cold and all up in the glitz and glam and shams of Yonge Street, off, off it was to…

Wait!  Stop!  LOOK!!!

Hell-o? What goings on and happenings at the Marble Slabbery do we do spy?

Ohhhhhhhhh….

BLACK RIMMED ASIAN GIRL GLASSES YOU’VE DONE IT AGAIN:

You had me at "FREE".

What the WHAT??

Or delicious.  Except that one time at Goodwill when my co-worker bought in cheesecake for everyone and I had the most cheesecake of everyone and she was like, "How? Why?" and I was like "BECAUSE!  FREE!".

Getting mines never been so good.

The catch was that in order to get a free ice cream (Birthday Cake or Sweet Cream with Sprinkles or Crushed Waffle Cone) we had to fill out a form, complete with email address and a big ‘ol check in the “YES send me promotions and crap from your store”.

Very well.

A few of fake IDs later, out the door we went with real FREE ice cream.

The FREE ice cream turned out to be our consolation prize: Snowman 7 (8 for me) was nowhere to be found.  After calls to Boys (our respective boyfriends who are at home, computers at the ready), the “help” of unhelpful staff at a nearby pub and a back alley detour to a “park” I’ll fondly remember as “Stabyourface Patch”, we discovered that our coveted Melty McCrybaby (by Chicago artist, Travis Lampe) had been moved from the dark and desolate wasteland outside the Chelsea Delta Inn to the more upscale asphalt surrounding The Royal York Hotel.

Sliver lining: determined to see at least one more snowman, we pumped tried legs up and down to Church and Wellesley streets where we were treated to:

8. Happy Sparkles Snowman by Tara McPherson!

Artist: Tara McPherson

Happy Sparkles Snowman

Oh, Tara!

Thank you, Tara, for your yummy glorious pretty, though badly placed Happy Sparkles Snowman!

Tara tells us that he “is made out of a special pink candy snow with frosting on top! He is your friend and will feed you yummy pink snowballs when you are hungry, and give you hugs!”

What?  WHAT??

I LOVE YOU HAPPY SPARKLES SNOWMAN! 

I say “badly placed” because in cahoots with the day’s end garbage lining the sidewalk, Happy blocked up sidewalk traffic, causing a bottleneck of people to form as we took our non-ironic photos of love.  When questioned about our actions by one couple, our “but it’s for the children!” invoked gleeful and pitiless laughter.

Could it be?

IT WAS.

New friends for life.

9. cloud mayne by Alex McLeod – Greektown (a.k.a. The Danforth)

Artist: Alex McLeod

cloud mayne

It was late at this point, around the 10 o’clock mark, which is a genuine kind of late when you’ve been running around the city for hours and hours.  I was by my lonesome now, headed eastward, towards home.

Still, the temptation of JUST ONE MORE snowman was too much to resist and it was located in my old neighbourhood, Greektown, besides.  A virtual trip down memory’s lane.

Why not?  My legs were already hurting anyway.  A little more of the same seemed a small price to pay.

There was none of the usual hustle and bustle one usually finds in Greektown at that time of night.  No Old Greek Men boisterously sharing small coffees at the Tim Hortons.  No tinny Greek music streaming from the open doors of restaurants.  No Little Greek Ladies, taking their Sweet Time.  Nope.  Just a few people and their dogs, out for “last chance (to poop!)” stroll.

And a couple sitting very closely together in a romantically lit restaurant that I first thought were and then fervently hoped were not father and daughter.

But it was there, almost as if waiting on the edge of Logan Avenue: cloud mayne by Alex McLeod.

Springtime snowman.

Ultimate snowman.

Also, this:

It really is Greek to me.

How I do miss you, Greektown!

YES.

So:

6 hours and 9 Snowmen later it, The Hunt, was over.  Sad but satisfied face 😉 (couldn’t figure out the icon for this, so I went with winky face).

THANK YOU ROSENA AND CO!

There are more Snowmen Out There that we did not manage to capture that night.  In our defence, one of the missed Snowmen is in Brampton.  Another is located inside the Toronto Zoo, and I’m just not made of zoo admission, OK?  Still another is somewhere in Mississauga, and I’m just not made for Mississauga.

Unfortunately, Torontoland only runs until December 22, 2011.  It is already, however, a success: the maximum donation of $50,000 has been reached.  Here is more information than I have provided, which explains the exhibit in more detail and how you too can find the Giant Snowmen:

http://www.narwhalartprojects.com/upcoming-exhibitions-2/torontoland/

For those of you who can, GO!

Do it now!

Don’t look back.

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It’s Chinatown! Or Bust.

Stephen is an economist, or something, but I’m the one of the two of us that knows the value of Value.  Truly.

I know this because I know Chinatown.

It is actually more than knowledge.  It is Love.

I love Chinatown. The One Chinatown that counts, that is.  Toronto’s Chinatown.

I have been to other Chinatowns: Vancouver, New York and, yes, even Ottawa (such as it is).  But these all of these pale in comparison to the Wonder of Wonders that runs up and down Spadina Avenue and which trails through the nooks and crannies of Oxford, Nassau, Baldwin, Cecil, D’Arcy and Dundas streets.

About Bánh mì: it is glorious.  Of Bánh mì, one of my favourite writers, Mindy Kaling (of The Office fame, she is great!), writes: "Banh Mi...is very easy to make AND hard to find store-bought. For this of you who have never had Banh mi, first of all, that is crazy sad. Second of all, they’re a Vietnamese sandwich that is different combinations of delicious hot meat or pate, pickled veggies, fresh veggies, mayo, served on soft baguette." (For more, see: http://theconcernsofmindykaling.com/things-i-bought-that-i-love-chicken-banh-mi-fixings).  Except, in Chinatown? Bánh mì = EASY FIND, which = FUCK YEAH!!!

In this shot alone: sandwiches, Nike, Fame AND signage till the end of the world!

Growing up, Chinatown loomed large in my life and imagination.  Since: 1) the town we lived in was just large enough to be mediocre; 2) because at that point in my parents’ long and begrudging march towards enculturation, grocery stores still seemed to be showing off at every turn; and 3) because an immigrant family generally longs for some rather “unconventional” Things anyway (i.e. staples, trinkets), it was Chinatown or bust for us.

Thanks to Chinatown, Toronto’s Chinatown, I discovered the limits of having only one good set of Social Niceties.

The difference, for example, between Bargaining and Haggling.

That space between Status and Entitlement.

The grey area overlapping Strictly Legal and Slightly Illegal.

I discovered that my parents, already fearless in clumsy English, were absolutely deadly when that pesky barrier of language was brought down.  I learned that there was “The Way Things Are” and “The Way Things Are Here.”  I saw my grandfather transform from The Bicycle Repair Man Down the Street into Ricardo Montalbán (of Chinatown) every other Sunday.

Watch those elbows, though.  At best, you can GENTLY nudge with them.  Anything more than that and you'll find yourself at the epicentre of Elbow Wars.

Go ahead. Just push in, elbows out. You'll be fine.

You can find absolutely anything in the hues, flavours and tastes of Chinatown: from artichokes to chicken feet.  From Louis Vutton handbags to live baby turtles.  From Hello Kitty to acupuncture.  You just have to know where and when to look.

Sometimes it – whatever it is – finds you.

I actually never make it home before I've eaten my coveted "Almost Spam 'N Mystery Not Egg but Almost That Too" bun.  SO GOOD.

No jokes here. These? DELICIOUS.

People have approached me in the conspicuous clandestine motions of Chinatown, and for the right price they have offered me everything. EVERYTHING.

I mean, what’s stranger than a live baby turtle?

You tell me.  You’d be almost right.

I'm not quite sure what's going on here, but I want it.

This stand could be a kicky drink you order at a poolside bar. In it's fun, frill and frolic the only thing it lacks is boozy liquid and a sense of desperate fun. I am serious.

Who are these people?

Who are you to want to know?

(WINK!)

I realize that the Chinatown that fits in my head would overwhelm the actual streets of Chinatown as they stand in there Here and Now.  The first time I went to Chinatown as a loosely accomplished adult, after a prolonged separation (fuck you for that, university education), I was struck by how…compressed everything was.

But I soon realized that even if those little details that make up memory and being are not really there, they are there anyway, running parallel to other Things.

Best Won Ton Soup in Town!  And it's, like, $5.00.  You can get it with peking duck and/or BBQ pork, hanging conveniently and unabashedly in the window.  Oh god.  I want some now. And COULD get some, since the place closes at 2:00AM.  What the hell am I even doing typing this then??

Edward Hopper meets Chinatown.

It is a cultural Thing?

It is certainly a matter of taste.  And it is taste that is carving that borders, sometimes, on hunger.

Appetite.

Longing.

Anticipation.

Finally: Experience.

Experience is key.  We do things not only because they are familiar – because of TRADITION, or its fraternal twin RITUAL, or their bastard cousin HABIT, or whatever – but also because they work.  They make a kind of sense.

For the uninitiated yet determined, there is one rough shortcut that I can offer up for easy consumption, which comes in the form of a neat equation.

What’s the equation?

Here is the equation:

______X______ for $1 = VALUE.[1]

No scurvy for me!

Who are you to resist it, huh?

Nectarlums! Pectarines!  It. Does. Not. Matter.

Plums? Nectarines? Who cares, $1!!!

So much Vitamin C, it hurts.  But it hurts so good.

10 for 1$???!!! I have lost my mind.

Grocery chains and malls with all four walls intact and megastores are often flashy affairs, and the prices you pay are as much about spectacle as it is product.

Embarrassment of riches.  Who knew?

In Chinatown, the spectacle is where you find the good stuff.  You just have to work, a little, to earn it.  Given time, glimpses can become insight.

Then again, strategies are only as good as their execution.

6 for $1?  The HELL??  That's 2 less than the other place!  NO DEAL.

When less is less.

There is produce, but it won’t come easy.  You have to look – really scrutinize for quality and live with your choices at the end of the day.

There is Hustle and Bustle, but also Dead Ends.

There are little old Asian Ladies selling herbs and spices on the edge of sidewalks, but make no mistake they are not to be trifled with.

They have an Eye that puts Gorgons to shame.  They know it too.

There is also this Man:

Sometimes he's playing in the corridors of the subway.  Other days, he's in the stairwells of the stations.  On this day, he was here and happy and YES I asked before I took this picture!  Why does everybody always ask me that??

Mr. Erhu

He is awesome.

Chinatown is sincere and unsentimental.

It is unapologetic and gracious.

Firm, yet supple.

Finally: it is welcoming.  Trust me. Follow the equation to wherever it leads you, and you might come to experience the value that is the True Value of Value!

Or not!

I’ll be there regardless, anyway.


[1] Wherein “X” equals “whatever”.  WHATEVER.

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Profound

Friday night.  Toronto.  Pizza Pizza on the east end.  And I found them.

True words.

Hear, Here!

"Do be do be do..."

Also:

Truer words.

Yo momma so fat, when she goes to the movies she sits beside EVERYONE.

Oh...SNAP!

I love this city.

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