Wednesday, September 29, 2004

one great city!

I'm warning you now that I'm going to post the entire lyrics to a Weakerthans song in just a minute.

I live in Toronto, the most reviled city in Canada. Oh, sure, there are jokes about lots of places, and some of them are pretty mean. But to the best of my knowledge, no other hometown is greeted with universal sneering by the rest of the country. (When I lived in Vancouver, someone serving me a muffin said "Where are you from?" and when I told them said "Oh. They're still letting you in, then.") You see, Toronto takes itself a little too seriously. Our desperate protestations that we are a World! Class! City! read pretty much like taking out a billboard that says we have no self-esteem, and yet we believe ourselves to be somehow more sophisticated than the rest of you rubes. Naturally, this attitude provokes a certain hostility. But here's my secret:
I love Toronto.
I love the fish markets lining the streets of new Chinatown, where I grew up. I love the pathways through the ravines. I love the guy who panhandles in my neighbourhood with a paper coffee cup at the end of a makeshift fishing pole.
I love being able to get Greek food and sushi within a few subway stops of one another. I loved the old streetcars, and I love seeing photos of them. I love looking around in a crowd sometimes and realizing I am the only white face for a hundred metres.
I love sweater-weather here. I love that we have a high school especially for queer kids. I love the stark, awful grief expressed on our AIDS memorial, and I love that it sits right next to the dog park, and people come to sit on the steps in front of it and live.
I love the places where kids still play street hockey. I love the Grapefruit Moon restaurant, named after a Tom Waits song and run by a sweet owner and a handful of cool staff. I love the transit system.

I have lived other places and loved things about them, but my love for Toronto is the kind of deep love that some people have for the places where they are born and grow up. The geography of this part of Ontario is in my body, and nowhere else feels like home.

The song One Great City! can only have been written by someone who feels that way about their home. When I was taking my heartbreak tour of Vancouver and points east in 2001, I stopped in Winnipeg for an aimless thirteen hours to see if I could see something of what that love hangs on, just because of the Weakerthans music. I want people to be passionately attached to our cities. Maybe if we loved them more, we would feel more responsible for them. Maybe they could be better places. Maybe we could make them that way.

Late afternoon, another day is nearly done
A darker gray is breaking through a lighter one
A thousand sharpened elbows in the underground
That hollow, hurried sound
Of feet on polished floor
And in the dollar store
The clerk is closing up
And counting loonies trying not to say
I hate Winnipeg

The driver checks the mirror, seven minutes late
The crowded riders' restlessness enunciates
that the Guess Who suck, the Jets were lousy anyway
The same route every day
And in the turning lane
Someone's stalled again
He's talking to himself
And hears the price of gas repeat his phrase:
I hate Winnipeg

And up above us all, leaning into sky
Our golden business boy will watch the North End die
and sing "I love this town,"
then let his arcing wrecking ball proclaim

Thursday, September 23, 2004

all of our sadness is a rearview mirror

You know those boxes of stuff that everyone seems to have? Yesterday I decided to try and sort through some of mine. I didn't even know what was in them anymore, which was my first clue that maybe this was not stuff that was critical to my life as it stands. I was mostly right about that. There were some random cords for things I couldn't identify, two pairs of my old glasses (one of which really really does look like safety goggles), and yet another hammer. (Why do two people need three hammers? We don't. I put one out this morning with a box of free stuff.)

I also found a big stack of framed photographs that I haven't had out in a few years. Some of them I was able to look at and know right away that they could come out of the frames and go into an album or a photo box, freeing up frame use for pictures that were taken after we all got out of our teens. Some of them gave me pause. There's one of my ex (the artist currently known as Fuckface) just after we met, smiling in my old bedroom. He looks young, and really happy, and it's weird to think that the guy in that photo just had no idea about all the things that were going to happen between he and I in the six years that separate that moment from this one. It was all new back then, shiny and possible, and now we've outlived the things we had to teach each other, and we don't talk anymore.

There's also a triptych of photos I used to have hung over my desk. Each one of them is one of my lady friends. None of them is an especially glamourous shot: Pubah in the bathtub in her cutoffs and tank top, dousing her skunky and unrepentant dog with tomato juice; Elizabeth batting a balloon around my living room; Jennifer playing her guitar. Those are still in the frames, sitting on my sofa. I used to look at them every day during one of the crappiest years of my life, and they made me feel better by reminding me that there are people who see and love what's good about me, that there are people whose various brilliances are bright in my life.

It's almost like those memories have a life of their own, continuing along parallel to the world we inhabit now. There's no telephone service between there and here. We can't be those people or know those people again, and even if we (and they) are in a good place now, there's something sad in that.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

good listeners

Although I don't have to be at work until early this afternoon, I rolled out of bed early enough to catch the morning sun in my living room, slanting across the floors and actually hitting my suncatchers, makin' little rainbows. I turned on CBC and listened to a whole bunch of people on The Current proposing phonetic spelling systems for English. spook followed me around, spelling things ("Neighbour. N-A-B-O-R.") and giggling, while I made faces and protested. ("Work. W-U-R-K." "You're just trying to hurt me now!") For years, my clock radio alarm was set to CBC radio one. Every morning started with CBC, and whatever they had cooked up for that day, with whoever was hosting the show. I have a whole set of memories linked to radio listening.

One afternoon, during a particularly hot summer when Shannon and I spent part of every day lying on the kitchen floor with the drapes pulled down, she got to her feet and stomped out of Peter Gzowski's interview with Alexa McDonough. She disappeared down the hallway. "Call me when he stops condescending to her!" she yelled from her room at the other end of the apartment. I did, but only after they had moved on to the next segment.
In the middle of a sleepy Sunday morning newscast, Rick sat bolt upright in bed, staring wildly. "Why is the legislature sitting?!" he asked me, panicked. "My god, is it Monday?!" I had been paying more attention and was able to reassure him that no, they had called an emergency session, and he stopped hyperventilating.
Jennifer wrote me a love letter making reference to my news-broadcast habit. (More addictive than caffeine.)
There are other things...endless complaining about smarmy Michael Enright, some swooning over Avril Benoit (and Meredith informing me frostily that Avril had been rude to her sister)'s the little things that make up a relationship, right?

Public radio has all but disappeared from my life, and I miss it. Where else can you listen to people all across the country talking about who taught them to bake muffins? Where else does some big tough trucker call in because every morning his dog "sings" along with the This Morning theme song? (The dog did a frighteningly good job of it, actually; he had better pitch than some of the people in my high school choir.) All the weird minutiae makes public radio a haven for geeks, and it's not just ours--This American Life, which I explored via the Internet, makes fabulous radio out of Chicago. Can you imagine an hour about poultry? You don't have to! Visit them at! I know there are others, all over the world. While there are things I love about TV (the Weather Network's sexy satellite map, for example), it's not the medium I want to take home to mother. Oh, darling radio, can you forgive me for my infidelity? I know we've both changed, but I want to give it another try.

Friday, September 17, 2004

let me hear you depoliticize my rhyme

We were at home last night, spacy and exhausted and therefore inattentive to little things like pressing the mute button when the commercials came on. I wasn't paying attention to them, however, until suddenly the opening bars of Le Tigre's "Deceptacon" blared out into my living room. I whipped my head around hard enough to dislocate something, briefly convinced that the universe as I knew it was coming apart. It took me a few seconds to figure out that what was actually happening is that the song is now a Telus commercial, complete with zippy iguana.

I know I'm supposed to be all scornful that they've sold out. But mostly, I'm amused by the idea that thousands of people will get this song stuck in their heads. Imagine the horrified looks of Paris Hilton wannabes with their little little cell phones if they ever knew that the hip-sounding jingle for their company was produced by feminist queers. As for me, it does not make me want to purchase Telus services--it makes me hope Le Tigre has a new album out soon. I hope they got paid good, so they can afford to keep doing the things I love them for.


On the topic of commercials, does anyone else think the one for the goldfish crackers is weird? The fact that it begins "here's our jingle for goldfish" is a line that makes me think the writers panicked at the deadline.
"Frank, this has to be recorded for nine a.m. It's seven-thirty now. I've got nothing, man, nothing."
"Okay, does this sound? 'here's our jingle for goldfish...ah something something goldfish...the yummy snack that smiles back...until you bite their heads off'?"
"We are so fired."

Except that they weren't, and now that ad airs with the cheery line about decapitation all the time. As my friend Shannon used to say, there's no longer a need for satire. It's self-generating.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

your special daaaaaay!

Nothing in this lifetime had prepared me for the horror that is the Precious Moments bible...bridal version.

Monday, September 13, 2004

I walk the earth, my darling, this is my home

spook grew up in the mountains. I can't begin to describe the scenery there except to say that it's so pretty it looks fake on postcards. I grew up in downtown Toronto. I think these things shaped our personalities in a lot of ways, but the one I'm thinking of today is that when I'm going somewhere, I usually pick the most direct route. (The city is a grid, however imperfect, and why waste all those straight lines?) spook, despite having been here only a few years, always knows a prettier way. Sure, sometimes it's slightly less efficient, but it's not like he's wandering off irrationally--he just prefers to get there with trees, if possible. We went to work together this morning, and on the way there was this tiny mouse, running around doing mouse things. They're very cute when they're not in your kitchen, pooping in your cupboards. I can't remember the last time I saw a mouse just hanging around. I don't know if I've ever seen a mouse outside. As far as I was concerned, Toronto was a mouseless city, with the exception of the aforementioned kitchens, and the subway tracks, where they seem to do a thriving mousey business of some sort. I took the hint (thanks, universe) and took his route when I walked home, too. It was nice.

I've been walking to and from work a lot, lately. Another thing it has afforded me is a view of Yonge St. at 6:30 in the morning. For those of you who don't know, Yonge is the major north-south street here in town, and all my life it's been a blur of strip clubs and shoving and unfortunate store music blaring at you from the external speakers. At dawn you can walk unimpeded by other people, which is practically a miracle. One thing that detracts from the serenity of the experience is that all the hotdog merchants are out. I can't stop thinking about this. Do people really want to eat hotdogs at that hour? Eeeee.

Despite the hectic pace of the store today, I feel good about how it went. I believe tiny, squeaky thanks are in order.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

tinned soup of devotion

Despite the fact that I was once described as "the lesbian June Cleaver" and my insistence that dishwashing can be good meditation, I am not much of a homemaker. I do not come with the tidy gene. I painted half the kitchen in March, and have not yet completed it. Dustbunnies the size of kangaroos lurk in the corners of my living room. I'm a terrible cook, and I believe that one of the best places to despair about humanity is the supermarket. My partner, while not likely to scrub the toilet unprompted, keeps his clutter off the coffee table, makes the grocery lists, and cooks virtually every meal consumed in our home. We wobble along by trading off the things we both hate, and occasional days where one of us puts in several hours making things clean, or pretty, or edible.

Today it was my turn to brave the Saturday throng in the produce section.You have to understand, however, that this was not just any shopping trip. For two weeks every September, students returning to school descend upon the bookstore where spook works, creating chaos, extremely long lines, and numbness. During this time, ten or eleven hour days are not uncommon, and he's there six days a week. Meal planning? forget it. By the time he gets home he is an affectless cave pixie who might remember how to chew if I put something in his mouth.

This year, I will be helping out at the store a couple of days a week for the wacky period, as well as working what are turning out to be full-time weeks at my new job, where I'm still learning the ropes. Therefore, I will have a seven-day week next week...which will probably turn into eleven working days in a row.

All of this translates into high-stakes grocery madness. If I don't buy the right things, we'll end up eating stale Tostitos with peanut butter. The shopping itself seems to have brought out the worst in me--a self-righteous fury towards the couple in front of me who kept stopping their cart in the middle of the aisle to wander aimlessly back and forth, making it impossible to pass them (is it really possible to be this clueless and not drown in your bathtub?) coupled with a profound sense of incompetence (why can't I think of anything to eat? there's no food in my food!). I had a particularly bad moment at the checkout (trained monkeys could pack groceries better than me!) when I realized that I had more bags than I could really carry. It's a good thing we don't live too far away. I floundered home, struggling heroically with my value-pack of toilet paper at the narrow doorway to our apartment building, trudging up the three flights of stairs to wrestle with my million-pound door. I am now experiencing intense nostalgia for the days when I worked part-time in a small health-food store and bought organic groceries with the lackadaisical grace of a bygone era. Yes, of course I go to the market every day! How else would I serve my family the freshest, most healthful meals? In those days (when I was living with someone who was an even worse cook than me) I approached food with a beatific calm. Now I'm more likely to be found approaching leftovers with caution.

Nonetheless, surveying my haul, I am pleased to discover that I bought fruit and carrots as well as ramen noodles. I am going to turn the Softies up too loud and spend the rest of my afternoon singing along as I do some cleaning and organizing.

"there's no reason we can't call it what it is: it's love, it's love"

that way lies spooky carnival death

"Are you sure you want to get back on the highway?"
"I like the back roads."
"The highway's faster."
"I don't know..."
"You are such a brat!"
"Well, you wanted us to argue with you! You said so in your post! Besides which, I am on your bus..."
"It's not a bus."
"It's not?"
"How do you fit everyone then? Is it the most magic Volkswagon in the world?"
"No, it's--huh. Maybe it is the most magic Volkswagon in the world." [sudden, alarming thought] "But it's not full of clowns!"

Thursday, September 09, 2004

the sound of your voice when you stop talking

one day I realized that now, at this time in my life, I am supposed to be the grown-ups.

some days this fills me with giggling. other days, with panic, as the implications settle in: if I am the people who are supposed to be in charge, no one is really driving this thing. but okay, we can drive inside it. (I, myself, should not drive anything more mechanically complicated than a shopping cart--hopefully some of y'all are more astute.) it's September, when the year always seems to begin and end. soon the leaves are going to turn and fall, and I'll be complaining about how cold my wood floors are in the mornings. I've never managed to shake the school-days sense that September is a chance to start again, the real new year, and that this time I might get it right. who knows? maybe one day it'll happen.
for now, check out the weird stuff on the side of the road. argue with me about whether we ought to have turned five kilometres back. help me figure out how to get back onto the highway. we're going to see the sights.