I can’t tell if my eyes are open or shut. All around is darkness, my nose pressing against what feels like billowing soft satin. I guess this is what black looks like, if it looks at all. I am alone on (or in?) a dark pillow with my thoughts and my hang-ups. With my firmly-held opinions on urban form, livability and municipal politics, which ashamedly I did nothing about, save for a potty expletive-laced missive to NOW Magazine, written drunk and high. When nothing is visible, when the present is dimmed, we can’t help but be swallowed up by the past, consumed by memory, by regret. I still worry about population growth, pre-natal gender selection, carrying capacities and beads of sweat, how they’re bound to remind me of carpenter ants scampering across my chin and neck in this blackness. I remember how I never fully understood geocaching, though pretended I did at dinner parties. Where is my GPS-enabled smartphone? Where am I? Is this a dream?
Curiously, I have been whispering this same stanza from Supertramp’s hit classic for what seems like hours, maybe days, but is probably just minutes.
“Well can you put your hands in your head, oh no!”
Hmm. Maybe I just need sleep. Think of two completely different things and wait for sleep to come, says the website Turnoffyourhead.com. But, fuck, everything’s connected nowadays, owing to social networking. What helped me fall asleep as a child? “OMFG” was scrolled atop the crucifix in my bedroom growing up. I think. Or no wait. They were my initials – JHS. Actually, it was Jesus Hominum Salvator, but you can understand how it fed my ego. Still, by rights they should have been scrawled with OMFG, to pay proper respect. Maybe more kids would have gone to church, formed social networks. The Vatican has a Facebook page, with scarcely 5,000 friends. Compare that to Pippa Middleton’s Ass Appreciation Society, which has over 240,000 friends. But the internet’s not all fun and religion. It’s a mobless mob, I’d heard seeds of this in focus groups, who hiss and chafe online as common denominators burn London and Vancouver and Cairo to the ground. Movements, whether on the street or through the bowels, can be shockingly a-political.
Everyone from socialists to plutocrats panders these days to “middle class working families”, the very demographic that had been seeping for decades into cracks in the ground like an Arab Spring. Retro is the key here. You can successfully flog rotary phones and sheepskin condoms to hapless masses when half-assembled, papered-over nostalgia replace horse sense, dental plans and pensions. Witness one Rob Ford, a Mayor who loved Supertramp as much or more than middle class working families. It said this on Facebook, moments after it said it in Toronto’s fourth most popular daily, the National Post. What a gas.
“Rob Ford” There is nothing artful about this name, which makes me doubly angry that he’s central to this story. Every time this dim 2-syllable turd of a name appears in print, it is inescapably jarring, a synonym for disappointment, like “margarine”. Asinine, like “suck face”, it debases prose by merely being. His brother, another dreary verb: “Doug.” Doug was the kind of kid who blew off school to hang at the megamall, dreaming of dragons, dungeons and gargantuan ferriswheels. Fixers and handlers were typically learned, but this sugarplum had never even never been near a library. But I can’t blame him for not knowing Judy Bloom.
The seed that begat Ford One came not from some redneck whiskey-soaked drifter, but rather from the heavens (more on this later). In the meantime, let me introduce you to his favourite film: Cannonball Run. Rob Ford, riding his own private version of the French New Wave, cherished light rock and outlaw road-race film more than humanity itself, whom he harboured an almost extra-terrestrial contempt for, save for middle class working families, presumably of the heterosexual variety, to the extent one can refer to families as sexual. His hatred of people worn on his sleeve, like existentialist Jean Paul Sartre, the difference being one of subtly, or maybe translation: Sartre’s “transcendence of the ego” is but a Marxist twist on Ford’s “fuck ‘er and forget ‘er, she’s a waste of skin anyways”, referring of course to a fellow city councilor. Ford later conceded, dogged by the media, with his eyebrows still dripping yellow dye, face blistering crimson from having fallen asleep on a tanning bed, that “a damp cooch is never a waste of skin, whatever you make of the rest of a gal.” In any event, I know I can’t think of him, post-coitally or otherwise, if I want to fall asleep. I’ve just thought of ten completely different things and yet I’m wide awake.
That song. That song. I can’t stop the lyrics from scrolling across the damp inner membranes of my eyelids, like ticker tape. The melody escapes me, but the words are in Helvetica font:
“I said dreamer, you’re nothing but a dreamer
Well can you put your hands in your head, oh no!
I said “Far out, – What a day, a year, a laugh it is!”
You know, – Well you know you had it comin’ to you,
Now there’s not a lot I can do.”
Like a day trader at Glastonbury, my arm shoots up, flicking a phantom lighter. I’m not at an Amphitheatre brought to you by Molson Canadian. I’m not tripping balls at Casino Rama. I’m in a fucking coffin, I realize, as my joyful pumping fist springs the top half open. I went to the light hours ago, yet I’m emphatically not at peace. Climbing out of this plush casket, pushing open the cream-curtained doors of the hearse, I realize, moreover, that I am on a freeway, or is it an expressway? And I realize I never knew the difference, and that it probably doesn’t matter anymore. And I’m grateful for not having soiled myself, having jumped out on a freeway, or an expressway, and having been in a coffin for Jesus knows how long. Nothing is moving except God’s lesser creatures, the flies especially, who seem to be revisiting their station in life. In real time, before my ears and teeth, they reclaim dominion.
Eyes adjusting to the bleached light, still shapes emerge that are at once muscular yet emasculated. A tableaux of frozen sport utility, glumly waiting in vain for Will Smith and his crossbow, or some other white knight. White flight, interrupted. An Escalade, half severed by a light standard, like an almost-eunuch with the knife still in him, the word “HYBRID” marked on its side panel, taking on a second, more poignant meaning now. In the distance, a parade of Lincoln Navigators crumpled helplessly against each other like paraplegics at a bathhouse. Most of the cars, even the crossovers, or whatever they came to be called, look officiously black, patriarchal and rapey. A redux of the ‘Behemoths’ and ‘Chariots’ in Atwood’s Handmaids Tale. All perfectly still. Their drivers missing. Raptured.
The drivers of the lesser vehicles, the Hyundai Elantras and what not, are skeletons. Usually the jaw and bottom teeth are on the passenger side, near the glove box. These poor souls, who liked live theatre and community gardening, or at least cared a whit for their fellow human, were not taken. Not even looted. Just rotted down to dirty bone-on-bone. Some had even car-shared and knitted for social change, their earnest woolen sentiments turned to vapour, the air rank with the scent of burnt sheep.
Moss and kudzu cling to the rusted guard rails. Russian thistle and moose-eared chickweed emerge through the cracks in the asphalt. Heroically, to the extent photosynthesis can be heroic, the occasional sapling of sumac or maple struggles through the pavement. The plants run this place now, breathless, having reached an understanding with the flies and silverfish and lamprey eels. The tail of a Westjet 737 ironically but assertively impaled on the roof of the Air Canada Centre, ringed by a halo of ash and newly germinated fireweed.
Questions emerge: How did I get to this place? Did a job offer cleave somehow to a forced abduction? I check my body for parts. Nothings bleeding or missing, but my Gothic white complexion suggests I haven’t seen the sun in some time. Why am I alive? Why was I in a posh casket in a hearse, especially when I explicitly requested a simple pine box, and stopped on the Gardiner, with no driver? I remember words and syntax, but not song. I don’t recall important things: Was I married? Was I ever imprisoned? Was there a lien on my house? I remember the half of things, strange and banal, as if my right cerebral cortex had been scooped out like a drum of gelato as thugs held me down on a Cold-Stone slab. Why do Tootsie Rolls stick to the roof of my, my barn?
Why did I get spontaneous erections as I thumbed through the hymnals at church? What is the Passion of Matthew? Of James? Most of my street hockey pals sprung theirs during the Stations of the Cross. No, wait, that’s a complete thought. Why do I not find this silly memory amusing, or any of this what-have-you? The processing of visual and audiological stimuli, spatial manipulation, the recognition of faces, the recollection of art history all seem irreparably impaired, which is what Wikipedia said I should expect with a hemispheric lobotomy. Or a Common Sense Revolution. “Oh no”, sings Supertramp. But while I share the sentiment, why can’t I sing it? Why can’t I recall melody, nevermind harmony? Why is nothing either beautiful or hideous? Why is the day so bright, yet I can’t locate the sun? I cast no shadow.
The air in this city is still, like death. And then it hits me – a horrible, profound loneliness. Not a longing for a loved one whom you hope to see again, but a total, harrowing solitude: The realization that I may be the last person alive. The one homo sapien that time and circumstances forgot. Worse, part of my memory and cognition has been erased. An organism who can reason, or so it seems, but one whose spirit has been drained. Meat, without light. I can appreciate the pioneering use of blooper reels in Cannonball Run, in Smokey and the Bandit, but can’t find in me sufficient humanity to laugh.
The gray sorrow of this scene, and my one reaction is to spring a padadger, smart phone pushing out the text of Amazing Grace to my phantom Twitter following, the 140 character-limit circumscribing the sentiment: “T’was Grace that taught…my heart to fear.” End of Tweet. The latest – and it must be said, last – in a stream of trillions of such hackneyed half-thoughts, binding the human family in a spiraling vortex of linked-in electrostatic detritus. This is community? Bits upon bytes of empty vanity. Shouts into the darkness hoping someone is listening. You don’t need to be the last one on earth to feel this way, but at least I can now relate. As my graceless feeds go unanswered, my solitude is confirmed. I’m ribald and rutting, and all around me is loss. The endings of things.
Looking up, a murder of crows flies in no identifiable formation. Or maybe it’s a scythe. A peregrine falcon dives into glass, with purpose. Three bodies hang, like Christ and two thieves, swaying in the wind, dangling from the perimeter of the CN Tower’s observation deck. A mummified trio of Edgewalkers. A mobile of bog people. The wind has dried their flesh, the operators of the attraction – the Edgewalk Talkers – presumably having been raptured long ago.
Here, in this decaying place, the dogs work like Orientals. They are slowly taking over, picking through the bones of sinners. But this reliquary has no church. For some god or godhead had taken the righteous, teleported them to a distant star system, and left the rest to rot. Or this is as best as I could figure, piecing the evidence together. The dogs lack class consciousness, but are angry nonetheless. Some believed you could house-train them if you rubbed their noses in shit, even while you extract the surplus value of their loyalty and labour. Elton John warned the bitch would bite back, as he dangled a baby, bejewelled and bedazzled, in front of rioters melting his double-platinum records into improvised explosive devices. Roman candles in the wind.
A shadow is burned on the wall out back of Harbour Sixty, a den of iniquity squeezed between off-ramps with valet parking, feeding beef and Béarnaise to those entitled to their entitlements. The closest a horny politician could find in all of Upper Canada to Berlusconi-style bunga bunga parties. $35 for a lobster cocktail, yet lobster are as good as prawns, are as good as shrimp, when they’re covered in pubic hair. Like garter snakes, balling in a ball, a writhing sphere of hissing stripes, of reptilian fucking, jackets and ties required. There were nights for wives and nights for paid girlfriends, when the wives were up in the Muskokas. The Minister Responsible for the Status of Women once made the simple mistake of showing up on a Wednesday instead of a Thursday. For that offense alone, it seems, she was fingered by the Prime Minister, acting in defense of the Status of Women before he kissed his wife goodnight through a surgical mask. The comic yet sinister shadow, like the radiation images of children at play burned on the few limestone walls left standing at Hiroshima, this one either a circus elephant in a clown suit smoking cigarellos, or more likely a fat man doing lines of cocaine off a hooker’s cans. This town was rampant with such hefty, randy, puritanical, substance abusing, get-tough-on-drugs crocodiles before the “happening” took them home, or if not home, at least far away from here.
The Last book of the Bible, the worst of a good book, was named Revelations by the Christian fathers at Nicaea, tongues planted firmly in cheeks, for it revealed precisely nothing, save for this nugget (Book 18, Verse 3): “The kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.” My takeaway? While investment bankers, radioactively derivative, would come to have unprotected sex with the soil, the opulent waxed meticulously in parlours. Like fallout, hot wax coated the scrota of these fat men and little boys, as they brokered merges and buy-offs and sell-offs, while vulnerable Vietnamese diasporics nervously lanced their bunions before peeling and fleeing. Liquidated exit strategies. Sunk costs.
Manhatten projects or Manhatten transfers, or whatever you call giving Atomic Energy of Canada away for a tumbler of penny stocks and a hand-job. Bad deals begat worse deals. Libraries were sold to Chapters-Indigo, subway stations were named after Coke Zero, Lululemon and Applebee’s. The City gave the metro zoo to a processed meat conglomerate, which in turn contracted out the feeding and breeding, while meerkats contracted listeriosis. Diurnal insectivores shouldn’t eat picnic ham, zookeepers once reckoned, but market imperatives dictated otherwise. On the advice of consultants, the men gifted Riverdale farm to Cityscape Properties, who built soft-lofts and lifestyle condominiums themed on the 100 mile diet, sold to the sustainability-obsessed yet paradoxically pop-culture savvy “echo” generationers. Urban meets local. “Local Flava: You in da shit here, dawg”, announced an organic Belgian endive with a giant clock hanging off its neck.
Meanwhile, on a distant shore, ensconced in his seaside Italian villa, with bottomless Somalian beauties ambling about, some pouring Limonata into bottomless glasses of ice and vodka, Umberto Eco lamented aloud that the advance of retro ate the present until there is nothing in the now, but for cute ironic references to the past. He should know. Photoshop uses algorithms to turn pictures of pals getting fucked up in Phuket into Van Gogh’s. Following this logic, that all around me is past, is knock-off, pastiche, I figure this scene is inevitable, and planes had to fall from the sky. Even this tale is recycled, composted, as good as shit to the plants and bats and spiders who I suppose are my only reading public now. I don’t even know how to work a printing press, I’m ashamed to admit.
I’m the witness to this tale. Or am I the creator? Maybe just a late bloomer. A savant, called to document this end of days. Or maybe I’m a lunatic smearing dizzy fragments of prose with my own fecal finger paint on the white-washed walls of an imaginary sanatorium. It matters little at this stage, this terminal phase of human history. I can riff and rip and steal and mock and slander and libel and character assassinate and just make stuff up. No one will judge me, yet regret eats the better part of my smugness, as I realize this could have earned me a mandate to govern. This is a town where Mayors get mandates by riffing and ripping and just making shit up, it’s only now sinking in. You will ask yourself, and well you should, if these ramblings are even just your own thoughts, and this story is not written at all, in any place. And I’m not here. Its weak narrative arc and tendency to careen and descend are the tell-tale signs. Look in a mirror and mark if your lips are moving. Can you peel your cheeks off like rind from an orange? Is your mind playing tricks on you?
The shadow back of Harbour Sixty is playing tricks on me. Whispering an absurd conversation I first read in the local paper; “I’ll try buddy, I’ll try,” A city councillor once promised a German-Canadian opioid addict, who despite his hyphenated identity, still represented a vote; “I don’t know this shit, but I’ll fucking try to find it. What does OxyContin go for on the street, so I have an idea?” It is unclear whether Ford ever procured it for the man, but he was known to deliver on promises. I’ll give him this. When he says “I’ll fucking try to find it”, you’ll know he’ll fucking try.
I remember now, six years back, or nine. We had a municipal election. The football coach whose penchant for kitschy sports paraphernalia, big spongy pointed fingers and the like, made him seem trustworthy to disgruntled Sikh cabbies. This man, who spoke in plain language, without pretension, who we might call “folksy” were it not for the 9-1-1 calls from his beaten, bleeding wife. This man, who could take it nearly as much as he could dish it, himself a victim of a domestic brouhaha. This man, who spiders colonized as a child. This egg-sack hit pay-dirt. Struck it rich.
He fed on gravy, fed to him from a funerary family urn. His brother Doug, trousers beset by gravity, dabbing his sibling’s gravy-stained chin with a Sham-Wow. Every first weekend in July was family cottage time. His Worship, shitting the gravy out on the cold Masonite floors of council chamber after dark and before sunrise, and on Sabbath, yet never charging taxpayers for a single stapler or hole punch. This gravy, not seen, but rumoured. Desired by many, including immigrant women. Diverse communities. To paraphrase the Book of Exodus, the ox-broth of this ass was coveted by every neighbour, from Sherway Gardens to Willowdale. A burning bush commands attention only when it’s on fire.
In the corners of what’s left of my worked-over mind sits a Coffee Time, a Pizza Pizza, a bank (I already forget which one) and a Hakim Optical. North, south, east, west. This cruciform Post-Lynchian image of the city is so perfectly grotesque, it makes me long for strip malls. This newer-than-new urbanist iconography, post-post-modern, alongside barnacle-encrusted bollards, Bass Pro Shoppes and a Norwegian cartoon depicting the prophet Mohammed whistling a cheerful tune and spraying gunfire at a teen summer camp. “A nod to the echo generation?” mused the planners, whose sanguine renderings had become the urban-scale equivalent of love-stained Kleenex: Unachievable fantasies exploded on crumpled parchment laminated by the lowered expectations of the invisible hand. Predictably, in hindsight, Barbie the beloved retro doll became an architect in 2011. Policy-makers transferred their guilt to this 11.5 inch polyvinyl chloride icon, toiling day and night in a tempered glass studio cantilevered over a beach in Malibu, choosing not to eat, as she tested design mock-ups and wireframe schematics to affordably house the growing legions of indigent migrant workers. But her final solution was more than we could stomach.
Pompeii had temples, cisterns and stadia. Aside from one noble viaduct, we have brand-name retail outlets. An earnest observation yes, but make no mistake, it will mark us geologically. Archeologists, or maybe palaeontologists, from Alpha Centauri – on the off-chance they exist (and if they do, I’m guessing they can fuck and kill with their minds) – will invariably use these exclusive brands to name this place, usurping trademark law of which they will claim either ignorance or amnesty. Where once was Maple Leaf Gardens, sits Loblaws. Where once was a roundhouse, lies a Leon’s. Where once was Fort York, where Toronto began, a Best Buy stands on guard for thee. For you and we. (Though I’ll concede at least they don’t work on commission.) Hard to believe there were once more libraries than Tim Hortons. Once books are burned, can coffee be far behind?
A wise man once asked, rhetorically: “Who let the dogs out?”
We knew we had cancer and we fed it sugar and smoke. The banal billboards, blogs and tweets metastasized, covering the civic realm with fingers of creeping death. The town turned to shit shortly after Big Boy let his son run the furniture business, after Olympic Africans boiled in vats of tar. When bitumen made better men sound unpatriotic and shrill. When Burtynsky sold photos of these miserable, broken landscapes for small fortunes. When the climate became hot as all fuck and burned the Africans that weren’t already boiled. When Bruce Mau called this massive change, as if we all previous thought it was status quo, smacking ourselves in the forehead. Genius cleaved to veneer, as a smart-dressed urban advocate changed his name to Florida to be “ironic” and a shipping magnate taught us all how to teach Aboriginal children, presumably also to be ironic. A rambling architect, riffing on Auschwitz, sheathed an historic façade of a museum children once loved to visit with a grim composite of angry cold metal punctured by token gashes of light. A crystal they called it. A cultural renaissance, they called it. Far out.
This is the ludicrous parade of events, the bitter normative soup, that allowed the rotting teeth of a TransitCity to tear up bike lanes and late-night bus service. Shredding street festivals and parades like a worm-addled frothing dog ripping up a stuffed bear. No parade was spared. Even Santa Claus was accused of siding with the Palestinians. “Pride? We ain’t proud. We ain’t nothin’”, to paraphrase the late Michael Jackson in the preamble to a dance-rumble in a parkade. He knew about urban fabric and the undoing of it, or at least the video had me convinced. I, however, only remember fragments of our retreat from the city Peter Ustinov called “New York, as run by the Swiss.” Did he mean self-referential vanity project, as run by hoarders of Nazi gold? Either way, please excuse any gaps. But I do remember the sentiments: “Roads are built for buses, cars and trucks”, His Worship chided no one in particular, “Not for people on bikes. And my heart bleeds for them when I hear someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”
It’s their own fault, indeed. As retro grabbed the upper hand, people partied in their basements like it was 1978. Sea shells, stubbies and starfish hanging playfully inside fishnets, hung perpendicular to patio lanterns and beaded curtains. Echo-generation sound asleep in their ashrams, as drunk driving enjoyed a thrilling renaissance. Raunchy, racial epithets danced on bar-b-quers tongues, while motorists flung ejaculate at cyclists. These times were gloriously, dizzingly mean. “The bestest and worstest of times”, might say Dom DeLouise. Mean was the new green: We could say ‘gaylord’, ‘pencil-dick’ and ‘cum-dumpster’ again, almost by municipal fiat.
His Worship showed us the way, reveling as he was wont to do at sporting events, at Leafs games. Raptors were a shade too urban. As Athens defended itself from the insults of Sparta, Chairman Ford would stand up for us all, when a spectator nervously asked him to quiet down. His reply, like a civic rapier, sharp and powerful: “Who the fuck do you think you are? Are you a fucking teacher? Do you want your little wife to go over to Iran and get raped and shot?” Booyah! Take that, you ratty little Hamilton shit-tard.
“Toronto”, long before this, had become a despised word. More a cipher than a city. People across the country had long hated it, particularly those in its agricultural hinterland who depended on its hungry yet seemingly ungrateful citizens for their livelihoods. For you see, a cabal of career bureaucrats and environmentalists had conspired to rob these agrarians of their dignity. This, according to RuralRevolution.ca, using savvy cyber-punk methods to advance the corn-fed philosophy embodied in the maxim “Back off government” (cribbed from Chief Pontiac or maybe Sitting Bull?). Their other aphorism, “Farmers feed cities,” calls to mind the gaping maw of a cavalier Allen Expressway chewing on bucolic countrified flesh like so much cud. Like Jews in cattle cars, these pitiable land barons suffered through the indignities of wind farms, greenbelts and jazz on the radio. Public subsidies mailed, often taking weeks, instead of wired directly into their bank accounts. Attracted by their bellicosity and the scent of Alberta Premium rye, they were probed the most before the aliens raptured them. This explains why the righteous were so ornery, despite their bounty and good fortune.
in 1983, angry pig farmers closed off access to the Gardiner, one week after Indians did the same. The farmers, hailed as heroes, the natives tossed in jail. Jarvis Street access to the Gardiner is blocked again, owing to different circumstances now. Walking the wrong way down the on-ramp, surveying the wreckage, I thought I had company but the voices came from giant overhead loudspeakers. Like cold war air raid sirens calling to prayer. At half hour intervals, they would blast pre-recorded messages from a calming female voice. Slogans, mostly:
This slogan was the Chairman referring to his relationship with his pastor, who had warned that same-sex marriage would dismantle civilization. Pastor Wendel Brereton of the Glorious Church-Faith Temple, a former OPP Officer, wrote that “Men who don’t truly comprehend the reality of the importance of the God-defined family will dismantle the very ethical fibres of what a healthy democratic civilization is.” The fact that the human species had been extirpated made this a quaint sentiment, I thought, its gender-specificity doubly nostalgic. Still, this learned student of history had a point: The French Revolution was not a queer-positive affair, despite the French accents and tight-fitting breaches. Liberty can be a fickle, oiled-up beast. The phrase sinks in like a slow drip, the Pastor and the Mayor, church and state spooning in the closest embrace since the Indian residential school system. Just the tip, then the shaft:
“We’re together. We have the same thoughts.”
Another of his favoured slogans echoes over the crackling public address system: “Why don’t we have a public lynching?” The origins of this loaded question: A sort-of thought-bubble unwittingly barked aloud upon hearing of a public consultation for a proposed homeless shelter. Never was more vitriol slung in the direction of a design charette. I can’t remember whether Ford obtained the mandate to carry out this kooky fantasy before he was raptured, or whether it sufficed to pay hobos to auto-asphyxiate as he jerked off in front of them. I do remember that his mandate was rotund and expanding. Sycophants and hangers-on clung unctuously to his lobes of suet, licking and nibbling between the undulating folds like plecostomi cleaning algae from the skins of a whaleshark.
Yes, I remember that. And you might surmise that I too enjoy cruel games of insult and slander as long as they are directed in ways opposite from myself. Indeed, Ford Nation lives and breeds on my cankerous tongue, as I grab my crotch and spit in the direction of co-op housing. We all live double lives, even Jack Layton, and Christ, who had some convinced he was a carpenter. “I popped my Don Cherry on the 401”, said a pious Richmond Hill homemaker, gossiping at a dildo party the night before church. Bleating about family values between the sheets, the hockey dads knowing they can crash her pad, her bum too, if they show up with a two-four of Miller Lite and a DVD of “Supertramp, Live at the CNE”, or some such.
The Chairman’s pithy public messages would always close out with music from this, his favourite band of all time, whose lyrical acuity and use of allegorical leitmotif make Wagner’s Ring Cycle sound like a nursery song played on a Casio keyboard. The tears well up, as it rings out through the canyon of ghostly glass and steel:
“I said dreamer… You’re nothing but a dreamer
Well can you put your hands in your head, oh no!
I said “Far out, – What a day, a year, a laugh it is!”
You know, – Well you know you had it comin’ to you,
Now there’s not a lot I can do.”
I am alone, and I cannot dream, it’s true. I’m rattling these thoughts off in the same way a frightened child talks out loud in a haunted house. As I contemplate the horror of my solitude in this city people once called “the good”, which was smote by a vengeful God who did not see that it was good, I realize I can put my hands in my head, if I enter through my mouth, and through one eye socket.
I am a ghost, journaling from beyond the grave, which is now a HomeSense. I’ve lost bodily function and fluids. I’m shitting gravy. All that is me is a slug-like phosphorescent trail of ectoplasm under the expressway, or whatever it is, which was never dismantled past Jarvis Street like they said it would be. And the fat man would have immolated in his own grease, given time and a spark, had it not been for the rapture and the good book that foretold it, and the pastor that laid hands on him, and the teacher at the hockey game who taught deaf kids to read, with the wife who he took to get raped and killed in Iran because he was just following orders. Echoing generations. Perfectly retro.
“Toronto Unlimited”, I am bound to you for eternity. To your half-measures and anxious aping of places with better stories. “A dead hipster is still a hipster”, I try to reassure myself, befriending an indifferent heap of thoracic vertebraes draped with a ruddy consignment faux-cowboy shirt, white earbuds still flanking the skull, crumpled Pabst Blue Ribbon wedged between a male rib cage despite the skinny girl jeans. Poor scenester never even been north of Bloor, nevermind the boreal (which I’ll concede is overrated anyway). We were dead before we were dead. That’s why Romero shot zombie films here. The extras, by the thousands, were method actors, Stanislavskian vampires sucking celluloid until the true death. The road to the Oscars starts here, some trumpeted, ignorant of a city called Venice. The tweens from Brampton to Ajax – bored from choice – coveted horrible emotive endings, moreso even than twelve-year-olds betrothed to ugly old men in Kandahar province, where Taliban warlords tongued each other’s ears playing broken telephone in the soft darkness, until they too were raptured.
You can’t fly kites in parliament either, a Greenpeace activist was once warned. Somewhere in the firmament above, Abraham dragged a loofah across his child bride’s shivering shoulders, watching these vignettes, snickering at Gothic revival, at how baptism is just waterboarding done gingerly. “Zeal is zeal. Zeal is zeal”, he muttered through a Cuban cigar, shrugging matter-of-factly. “But what are you gonna do? Now turn around and help papa with his corns.” From Oslo to Oman, we imitated, without purpose, yet by design, what Moliere called the “odious monsters of ignorant centuries”. Retro is short-form for retrograde, so by definition despicable was in. Maudlin self-pity is the path that enfeebled saps were urged to take, for the meek shall inherit the earth, someone scribbled on parchment, winking to the sky. Blow yourself up in a market. Blow your brains out at the mall.
Most rodents – gophers, pikas, beavers and such – never trusted Aramaic, and now these fur-bearing inconsequentials – these truly meek, who remained industrious, creative, communal and dignified – they belly-laugh and finger point at our unrelenting naivete, our sad-sack emo-core androgyny, our propensity to flog our backs and genitals, our preference for charity over justice. Schadenfreude from such diminutive creatures bites harder, although the rats were a different story. Ministers, raptured. Immigration officers, raptured. Talk show hosts, raptured. The Chicago School, raptured. Uncanny layers-on-of-hands the world over, rounded up and swept away, as angels hedged their bets. “If I was the chief, I would have moved in Saturday afternoon and cleaned house” Ford opined, when asked about G-20 overreach. “I think our police force was too nice.” The painted lines on our Highway of Heroes, fuzzy and indistinct: Between policing and thuggery, strip searches and buggery.
A homeless schizophrenic foretold it all, on a soapbox or maybe a milk crate or a Bixi bike stand brought to you by Telus. Food banks weren’t merely an indignity, for they fed chemical sedatives by way of instant Jello and Hamburger Helper to “clients”. The centre isles of the supermarket shut them up. But this prophet of doom, this oracle, he stole from the perimeter. That’s what artists do – they steal from the perimeter. And he knew how this would end, which is why they beat him to a pulp and swallowed his spleen. “A private lynching’s as good as a public one – just make sure they feel it”, ordered Chairman Ford. Make those street people squeal, lazy fucks. Make them dance with the devil.
I’m a ghost now. I am a ghost, of little or no substance and certainly no consequence. I feel an unearthly, gassy rage, reflecting on the Leaside of it all, yet cruelly there is no one left to haunt, save for squirrels and skunks, too jaded and self-absorbed to even notice. My best banshee howl conjurs but a yawn from said vermin, who joke that the Greenbelt was a neat idea as they stuff their faces full of nuts and gravy. “This is the price of sustainability”, they sneer, running wild, looting Holt Renfrew, playing with squad car sirens, and letting off rounds of ammunition.When Neitzche spoke of superman, the perfection of the species, was it body mass index he had in mind? God knows, the answer is “no”, or so went the tale told on a distant planet. The she-god, the it-god, whose minions probed and probed and probed at a clinical distance, from the safety of saucers. The data they collected, geo-referenced and geno-typed, explains why, after six days of creation and a day of rest that lasted two million human years, she realized she went one species too far. Australopithecus Sediba wouldn’t have been this crass, this acquisitive, she concluded.
And on the eighth day, she dispatched the perfect embodiment of human folly to “fix it”. A lamb in wolf’s clothing, sent to an unassuming anxious backwater on the envious shores of a dying Anglo-American sphere of influence. Toronto, the new Nazareth on the Zebra-musseled, blue-flagged Sea of Galilee, where Atom Egoyan’s wife appeared in too many films. Matt Damon liked it here, but not Russell Crowe, or was it the other way around? I remember it being important, one way or the other. A lot of people fussed about such matters, forgetting to vote, or voting to eliminate waste when they could have just shat themselves. And so it came to pass, as foretold in the Book of Daniel, reading between the lines, that His Worship was elected.
The Supreme Chairman Ford, a toad-prince kissed with destiny, armed with a mandate and an interstellar mission to eliminate gravy and the seven billion souls that clamoured for it. The righteous climbing aboard his ample chariot. She and It, Mother and Moloch, rapture them home, for the bodies of the entitled, if kept alive for a time, could be used as feedstock, as egg sacs, for a new and better species. Those left behind she took mercy on, though the quality of mercy does vary from galaxy to galaxy: These leftover well meanings – the indigenous, the teachers, fair-traders, sick children hospital fundraisers and what have you – were smote gently down to the bone, flesh molten or turned to dust or dried in the sun so the planet could lick its wounds and pick up the pieces. For even those who harboured sympathies to nature still managed to kick it in the liver, flying to Copenhagen, Taos and Cortez Island to lubricated their piety with almond oil, frankincense and Robert Kennedy Jr.’s saliva. Our sympathies toward the less fortunate distinctly fairweather, as foreign aid workers in flip flops dug wells by day and procured underage bargirls by night.
Humanity is coyote ugly. Intervention is all around me, having made my way as far south as Queen’s Quay: Well intentioned, but Soviet in execution and tacky in aspect. Having a baseline to now compare it with, I can say with confidence that I prefer death. Captain John’s floating seafood restaurant, the Ford brothers having spoken well of their baby back ribs, groans at the foot of the longest street in the world, sinking beneath the surface, as the inland sea swallows its cargo home, seagulls snatching bits of bread and hair left floating behind.
“Far out, – What a day, a year, a laugh it is!” Echoes the light rock chorus, sung by generations of ghosts, assembled on the cold concrete and brake-fluid-soaked gravel which the Port Authority once intended to be a waterfront boardwalk, promised but never built. They’ve gathered at this miserable terminus to hear the end of my thoughts, the end of this account. To hear the moral, if there can be one, to such an amoral tale.
So here’s my best shot: It seems that this troubled vessel needed fixing even from the clutch of those who would be its fixers. We couldn’t put humpty dumpty back together, because we shoved egg parts down holes we forgot about, sequestered them in abandoned salt mines, on a dare and in a stupor. And in any event this effete ovoid fell because we didn’t even build the wall right, having tendered the concrete work to Montreal racketeers, pretentiously calling it a crystal, edgy, when a brass rail might have helped. And we let horses do the piecing back, all thumbs, or hoofs, because men were too strung-out, and we weren’t inclined to give women the chance, not after roller-derby.
Nods all around from the blandly sympathetic audience of the damned, the sinking boat adding poignancy to an otherwise pedestrian summary. One ghoul mutters something about “massive change”, but retracts when asked to elaborate.
Were there such a thing as history left, it would mark that Rob Ford tried in earnest to fix things, whether by galactic sanction, to stop a gravy train from flattening the villagers, or simply to call truth to wastes of skin everywhere. And fix things he did, with paleolithic vision and grace, and a little help from his brother Doug. This bittersweet chariot swung low indeed, on a Cannonball Run, as he came to carry them home. The legacy, in one flickering neon word: “Vacant.”
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