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Wednesday, May 17, 2006


“Agh! There’s a cat outside staring at me,” Alison yelled from the kitchen. I went out to check, and sure enough, there was a massive, tan tabby staring coolly in the back door. We had just moved into our new place. We assumed it was one of the neighbours' cats, and by the look of his expansive and rather regal belly, he probably popped by a few houses for food every day.

It became a routine for the cat to show up every day at around 8:30 in the morning and many evenings. Every day, he would stare in the window, watching us make coffee and toast, and if he felt we didn’t see him, he would jump on the railing and continue to fix his gaze on us until we acknowledged him with a nod. After an hour or so of watching us, he would leave.

Eventually we made the connection between the enormous bag of Whiskas left by the previous tenants and this mysterious, utterly reliable cat, who had lost about ten pounds before we figured out what was going on. He was a stray, who had been regularly overfed by the previous tenants – and nobody else - or perhaps by the general contractor who renovated the place before we moved in. He was getting thin.

“I’m not feeding him that stuff, it’s bad for him” Alison said, referring to the Whiskas. I had already thrown it away, so that night I took a trip down to the corner store and bought $2 worth of speaker cable (nothing to do with the cat) and $0.79 of Fancy Feast. But the cat didn’t come back.

A few days after Wallace’s last appearance, I spotted a sign hastily scotch-taped to a lamppost up the street.






I was tempted to call. I was sure Tony wasn’t our stray but they looked very similar.

Days later I saw another sign posted to another lamppost.


I knew it was our stray and not Tony this person had found. Sure enough, two days later, our cat reappeared and while the MISSING signs stayed up, the lone, mistaken FOUND sign came down. Alison fed him a third of a can of Wellness. His breath left a terrible smell on the plate. He had taken on some scratches on his nose and was looking very upset.

Since then, Wallace has shown up every morning at 7:30am for his third of a can of Wellness cat food, except on days when it rains. He hisses when we put out his plate, but then he slurps up that food in no time. Once it’s gone, he licks it clean, turns his tail to us and vanishes back into the alley.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Make My Day. No, Really.

I've now established a reliable route from home here that usually takes less than 40 relaxing minutes on the streetcar.

Today, I caught all my transfers. When I transferred onto the King car, the streetcar was pretty full at the front, of couse, with empty seats at the back. I 'scused my way to the back of the streetcar and sat down. I got to enjoy the empty seat beside me for five or six stops and then, in front of Roy Thomson Hall, the streetcar stopped and commotion erupted. A transit guy stood at the stop, surrounded by a teeming mass of eight year olds.

He looked like a purple mountain rising out of a roiling sea of children. His face looked like it was buried in a cloud The kids started to get on the streetcar. Everyone
who had planned to get off at the next stop to board the subway quickly made the decision to flee before the children got on. The car emptied. I would have done the same but the walk was too far. All I thought of was the smell, filth and noise that come with hordes of kids. And me with an empty seat next to me.

The car
filled up with miniature people, their heads bobbing as they spilled down the aisle, the familiar noxzema-like smell of elementary schools everywhere wafting onto the streetcar.

I dutifully put my laptop in my lap and gazed forlornly out the window. It would only be 5 stops or so to my destination, so I steeled myself to ignore the inevitable rush of noise and set my attention to the outside world.

But a little girl, thankfully clean, sat down next to me.

"What's your name?" she said.

"Jared," I said.

A small hocke
y brat sat in front of me. He was the kind of kid who probably beat up other kids and he reminded me of the kids who picked on me in grade two. When the kids sat down he wouldn't let another girl sit down next to him so the teacher sat with him. He was scowling.

But it didn't matter. The little girl who said hello had somewhat charmed me out of my crusty shell. "Are you on a field trip?" I asked.

"Yeah. We went in there and saw LOTS of MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS."

"What grade a
re you in?" I asked.


"So how old are you?"

The brat in front turned around. "I'm EIGHT!"

The girl said "I'm seven, turning eight this year."

Another little girl from behind us stuck her head between me and my seatmate. "I'm seven but I turn eight this year too."

"Where are you going?" the little girl asked me. I gave up. I laughed. I just couldn't fight it any more.

"To my o
ffice," I said.

"You have an OFFICE?" she asked. She leaned forward to look me in the eye and see if I was lieing.

"Yes!" I responded, which is not entirely true. It's Shelley's condo.

One of the teachers interjected, speaking to the kids. "The office! That's not as much fun as a field trip, is it!"

They all ignored the teacher and continued to stare at me. "Do you have kids
of your own?" my seatmate asked.

"No," I said.

"Why NOT?"

"I'm not old enough!"

"How old ARE you?"

"I'm twenty-nine."

"That's old enough to have kids."

"Well I guess I'
m not ready."

She nodded sagely then stared into space. The hockey brat, who had behaved very well since the teacher sat down, called the girl's name. He made a series of gestures with his arms, ending with that face where you put your thumbs and forefingers in a ring around your eyes.

"Huh?" she said, looking at him.

He did it again. He knew what he was up to. He was doing it because she didn't know what it meant. Neither did I. But he knew. It was obviously something that would get him in trouble, because he was keeping a close eye on the teacher, who had since fixed her attention elsewhere.

"I don't get it," said the girl next to me, looking resigned and vaguely annoyed with his tactic.

"Me either," I said, commiserating. "This is my stop!"

Those kids made my day.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Teal Capris

One day, shortly after moving to Toronto, I was riding the streetcar from furniture window shopping at Queen and Roncesvalles to my house. It was a beautiful late summer day, not crazy hot as Toronto had been just days before. I had just walked through Parkdale and hopped on the Queen car near Ossington. When I got on, I pushed past the clusters of people at the front of the car and moved toward the back. I sat in the living-room like area at the back of the car.

The entire rear section of the car was empty, and it was one of the rare cars with a single row of seats on the drivers side, and a double row on the passenger side. Just at the front of that single row, next to the doors, sat one other lone passenger, who had a shopping cart and was gazing out the window. I was still soaking in the Toronto experience and felt, for some reason, that this man was worth observing.

He seemed very fit, with a lean face and a long pointy nose, quite alert, and although initially I thought he was reasonably dressed, I realized after a few moments that the teal capri pants he was wearing looked an awful lot like my grandmothers teal capris: polyester, finely tapered at the bottom, pleated at the top. Likewise, that loudly printed shirt of his seemed, in fact, to be a lady's blouse. He had long, stringy but groomed grey hair that began at the rear of a fully bald crown. The straw hat, which he held in his hand, and his flat-footed canvas shoes, could have been mens or womens clothes. Other than some unusual fashion choices, he seemed quite well composed. I watched for any sign that he might be somehow unwell, or perhaps simply aware that he was dressed in culturally inappropriate clothing and might attract attention as a result. He gave no signs.

Gradually I lost interest in him. Something was not quite right with him, but that was all. He sat, looking out the window and back into the car, a little bit impatient at the speed of the streetcar - but who isn't? His angular face betrayed a vague, simmering anger, some frustration. His eyes darted back and forth like a bird's eyes searching for breadcrumbs in the grass.

We stopped at Bathurst and a string of people got off the car. The driver inched forward. The light went red again and we screeched over the iron rails to stop at the light.

Before the car came to a halt, the man leapt out of his seat, jumped into the air and grabbed the safety railing by the door. He perched on the banister leading down to the door, and with his hands, gripped the vertical rail. Then he cawed like a tropical bird, CAW, CAW, and pivotted on his feet. He swivelled and hit the door with his shoulder, triggering the safety alarm on the streetcar. Ring! CAW! Ring! CAW! Ring!

"Sir," said the streetcar driver, giving the man a look of authority in the mirror. The light turned green. "SIR!" The streetcar advanced through the light. As we began to roll, the bird-man jumped back off the railing and sat down, resumed looking out the window.
I got off at the next stop and never saw the man again.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Ignatius J. Reilly

One cool morning in mid October, I stood, waiting for my streetcar to arrive at the disreputable Toronto corner of Jameson and King.

It was early morning, often the time when the most seemingly respectable characters in the neighbourhood are out doing their thing, generally on their way to or from somewhere. On this morning a large crowd had gathered in wait for the always infrequent King streetcar, and when it pulled up to Jameson and stopped with a clang, the crowd, chilly on a cool winter morning, melded itself into a bunch around the door and slowly squeezed in. As I stood in the middle of that bunch, waiting for my turn, I heard him.

"Parkdale used to be the Rooosedale of Toronto, you know. Then the rich people took it all away. They put up the highway and the rich people went away, you know."

This was a bit of Toronto lore I had just been reading about, having recently moved from picturesque Cowan Avenue to the lively, but disreputable Jameson. I was interested to hear what this orator had to say, so I turned as I got on the streetcar and saw a very large man, yes, in a hunting cap, a billowing cream-coloured down coat, with a perfectly trimmed beard, recently scrubbed rosy cheeks, and a pair of resin-rimmed far-sighted glasses. His little lips pinched together as he related the sad story of the downfall of one of Toronto's most liveable neighbourhoods, lost when the Gardiner turned Parkdale from a picturesque lakeside community to a place sandwiched between the freeway and the northbound train tracks. He said all this as he was getting on the streetcar.

Annoyance was clear on the face of many who received this man's message, so I was naturally interested to hear what else he might say. I settled into a seat just far enough back from him to hear what he was saying without putting myself at risk of being talked to directly.

However, rather than explain anything new, my new friend simply reiterated, in a less and less sensible fashion, the story of Parkdale's downfall.

Finally, after twenty minutes of his nonsensical diatribe (which I was nevertheless enjoying), one of the young women standing closeby told him what she thought of his opinions.

"Shut up. Shut UP! You don't know what you're talking about!" She railed on at him for a good minute, and while she spoke, his cheeks got redder, his lips pressed ever tighter together. A storm was brewing within. Then she finished. Her friend looked on.

"Noooo, YOU shut up," he said, firmly but calmly. "You don't know what YOU'RE talking about." Then he shut up.

The girl who had given him a piece of her mind stood on the steps of the streetcar, about to get off. Her friend, the witness, was standing with her back to the man, who was seated in the frontmost seats of the rear section. The friend's backpack dangled, swinging dangerously close to the man's face. I could see his cheeks reddening again, and he pursed his lips. Just as the girl was about to get off the streetcar, he spoke, again with perfect enunciation, just loud enough for her to hear.

"Yooooour backpack." He paused, then spat every word with the venom of true "Look at it. It's filthy. I hate it."

Then, not a word until I reached the bank.

Something about this strange, bloated man appealed to me. Perhaps it was his love of cleanliness, long words and perfect enunciation. Whatever it was, I relayed the story to friends and family over and over and it almost always ended in laughter. "Your backpack" became a popular refrain in conversation. As with all such stories, after a while I began to feel guilty about using his misfortune for humour. All the same, I desperately wanted to see him again, but hadn't. Usually you see eccentric characters in the same place, at the same time, but on no other morning on my way to work did I see this man again.

Three months later, I was shopping with my business partner in the natty No-Frills at the end of Jameson. I was rolling my two-wheeled cart along the produce as we discussed the disappearance this mystery man. She, along with several others, had the idea that this man was Ignatius J. Reilly from Confederacy of Dunces. I was almost ready to accept that he had been a morning hallucination caused by lack of sleep, when I turned the corner from avocados to the pickle shelves and lo, I wheeled my cart in front of a bilious, ambling man. I looked up from the heavy boots to the down coat and hunting cap, and there he was. I had nearly run over his feet and had stopped him mid-stride, and worse, I had done so while we were laughing about him. I was sorely concerned that the lips would purse, and the cheeks would redden, and I would be the victim of a sour diatribe.

Instead, he cocked his head to the side and said, "Hulloo," in a singsong voice, with that perfect enunciation, then pranced lightly around my cart.

I never saw him again.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Street Life in Toronto

One of the unexpected things I loved once moving to Toronto is the street life here.

I think when I say "street life" you probably have the picture of happy, prosperous middle class young people, clad in respectable coats, doing things like kissing romantically under street lamps, drinking cappucinos or pints on sidewalk padios, and shopping. This is part of street life, but not all of it.

Street life in Toronto is made extra-spicy through the ample population of mental outpatients, recovering and relapsing drug addicts, and other various generally thought of as unsavoury characters who give new meaning to the tourist slogan Toronto Unlimited. These folks are part of the fabric of daily life here. Let me be clear that their lack of a place to live is a problem, and our society's seeming total lack of attention to finding places for these people to live, that's a problem too. That some of these people have no family, no stable group of friends: probably the biggest problem of all.

The fact that they're wandering the streets, sharing streetcars with the scarf-wearing romantic under-street-lamp kissers, latte-drinkers and shoppers, that is not a problem. Nothing could be more right. Toronto's utter randomness is what makes this city so vibrant. The fact that pedestrian life is so dominant here, helps many people who may have nowhere else to go feel a sense of belonging. It certainly gives them lots of people to talk to.

You have to keep your eyes open. There is always the potential for being spat upon, verbally abused, and though I haven't experienced it, physical violence. But if you stay emotionally open while you keep your eyes open, interactions with Toronto's street dwellers can be one of the most rewarding things about living here.

In honour of that, I'm going to write a series about some of my interactions with my favourite street people. Right after I finish my work.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Purging it a little further down the pipe

Writing self-confessional crap in a public place like this is the best incentive to get me to write more often. The logic goes like this: if I write enough, the other stuff I wrote will become comparatively less noticable.

I've been on a site called myspace.com. It has blogs and pictures and music and filmmakers and lots of youngish trendoids who make me feel old and out of it and like I don't have as many friends as them. I am not old but I break 30 this year. Yeah me! At 24 I was on track to be dead by now. Instead I've turned into a stuffy, self-important entrepreneur.

After joining myspace, I randomly clicked around on there and subscribed to a few peoples blogs, which people there take much less seriously than the blogger crowd, and thankfully so. I had no idea it told you who had subscribed to your blog, so I had been checking in on Jaymie's blog regularly without ever saying hello, even though it's highly personal and I don't have any idea who she is. I mean, her profile photo caption is "You're hot but how do I know you're not a tranny?"

Today, on the prompting of Crazy Mel, who advised me of some myspace news, I logged in and in big red flashing letters the notification was flashing that I had new messages, and new blog subscription posts, so I read and responded to my messages then clicked through to the new blogs. "Who the hell reads this?" was her last one.

"Big ups to so and so and so and so and some guy named JARED," it said.

Well, big ups to YOU, JAYMIE for calling me out.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Purging the Negative

I don't know why I committed to write in this thing once a week, but it's turned into more of a diary than anything, except that other people can read it, though fortunately for my tender ego, not many do... I read other peoples blogs and many people write about external stuff. Perhaps someday I will do that too, but right now that's not my habit. When I start editing the film again, I will write about the film, which is what this blog was supposed to be about.

For tonight, I have a need to purge some negative thoughts through a possibly misguided psychoanalysis of myself, and you, my dear reader, may absorb these negative thoughts and the therapy as well. I don't promise it will be organized or make any kind of rational sense, but I do promise it will be long winded and straight off the top of my tubular head.

I've noticed that in the company of specific people, I am sensitive to specific kinds of criticism. Despite the previous sentence having the word 'specific' in it twice, this is a general statement brought on by a specific situation which I am specifically avoiding discussing directly.

I also notice that what gets through to me varies based on who is critiquing. Person A could say "your pants look stupid" and it wouldn't bother me, but if Person B said the same thing, I might collapse in a paroxysm of shame and embarrassment. It wouldn't even have anything to do with how well Persons A and B dress or even how much I actually value their opinion. Instead, it would likely be to do with the fact that I had worn those pants specifically to impress Person B. At my worst, I might not even have liked the pants in the first place, and in this case my reaction would be anger and indignance layered over that shame and embarrassment.

I have a lot of armour. That armour is carefully disguised as other things. I use charm and a grandly projected, but moderate sense of humour, along with a very astute, and mostly subconscious grasp of what drives other people to like me. It's not so cool, but I am motivated greatly by being liked.

I love to be loved.

I have lots of other motivations that are more important, ultimately, but in my personal life, this is probably one of the biggest gears in the old clock. It's my Achilles heel. Pardon the comparison with Achilles, who I have little in common with besides the heel.

This incredible need for approval expresses itself as a strength because I am very good at winning people over, particularly if I am not trying too hard. It expresses itself as a weakness when I do try too hard, because I can and will make myself look like an ass, but more importantly, because somebody equally crafty can manipulate me via that desire for approval. Even if I'm aware of the manipulation, I will allow it to continue in exchange for continued approval. This is patently a character flaw because it means I disempower myself. If you think about that it will bend your mind a bit. I mean, you can't disempower yourself unless you were empowered to begin with.

There was an article in Adbusters at some point about "the awful distortions necessary to achieve fame" and how people who seek celebrity are expressing a kind of psychological disorder. That disorder has something in common with what I'm talking about. I don't know if I buy it, that fame-seekers are psychologically ill, but I can see how disorders, or disturbances in the life force of the individual, can make people act in ways that aren't right. And when you mix two or more people who have compatible disturbances in their life forces, you get crap like codependency, situations where victims return to abusers, or in large groups, things could happen where larger scale antisocial or criminal behaviour expresses itself in a cultural way.

I'm getting all ethereal because it's 1:40am, I haven't had a full nights sleep in days, and I've been thinking about the crazy happy culture at the candy factory.

Back to me. I am realizing gradually that this completely self-induced lack of sleep, and the perpetual state of being behind on this, that and the other; and that item as well; plus the thing I forgot about more than a year ago; also that list of things I promised to persons x, y and z, which I'm currently making excuses about: all this lateness and total irresponsibility, which is everywhere, and accompanied by a slavish work ethic, is at least in part, an expression of this insane desire for approval. By allowing this need to take over my persona, I keep myself from doing the things I say I want to do, I reduce my impact in the world, and I spend time writing self-referential crap like this instead of doing something to improve the world, which, in my heart, I really want to do. In the end, all this pandering always collapses on itself and I am forced to fall on my sword to save my honour. Well, fuck that!

Therefore, I hereby add to my series of commitments, the mother of all those other commitments I made way back when, that my number one priority is not being liked, or being approved of, but taking care of myself mentally and physically. I will do that by projecting myself honestly into the world, by cultivating and holding onto friendships with people who hold me to my commitments, by clearing issues with others, by telling the truth, and by giving of myself without expectation.

I'm not there today, but tomorrow is a new day.