Things you see on the TTC

October 25, 2011

Yonge line, heading south from St. Clair. I get on and notice a free seat but decide I’ll stand instead when I notice why it’s free. A slightly rough looking man with unkempt,  greyish hair and dressed in soiled denim is occupying the next seat. He isn’t particularly filthy but a certain degree of twitchiness gives him a definite air of danger.

That is, if you define “danger” as the possibility that somebody on the subway might actually speak to you. He possesses those overly alert, slightly manic mannerisms which are clear indicators of a Talker. Sort of like how you know from twenty paces that a dog is going jump up on you and lick your face.

The alarm bells he’s set off in my head are clearly silent for the well-dressed, middle-aged woman carrying a plastic shopping bag who plonks down beside him. She’s either far braver than I or hasn’t assessed the situation to the same degree. Due to the her slightly oblivious, preoccupied expression, I suspect the latter.

He immediately begins talking to her. Judging from the look that’s crept into the corner of her eyes, I’m glad to be wearing my iPod and unable to make out exactly what he’s saying. After I notice her loud, nervous laughter, I remove one ear-bud to evesdrop.

He says, “You only have one bag today.”

“Yes. Just the one,” she says and laughs nervously again. Her body language is now beginning to migrate from politely accommodating to closed-off.

“Where do you shop? You shop at the mall,” he asks and answers.

“Sometimes, yes,” she confirms unnecessarily.

“I know you. I seen you there. You’re always running around with three bags. I watch you all the time. Three bags.”

Looking confused and a little more worried, she says, “Oh. I go to the camera store sometimes,” offering him more information than I would have.

“I’m a janitor there. I see everyone. I watch you lots. I seen you always have lots of bags.”

It’s clear by looking at her that she’s quickly come to understand the magnitude of the error she made by sitting beside the scruffy man. The look of worry has spread from her eyes to flood her whole face. This is too uncomfortable for me so I stick the ear-bud back in and focus on my book.

When we arrive at Bloor Station the woman sheds her increasingly unhappy expression and brightly says, “This is my stop. Bye-bye!”

Her bubble is immediately burst when the man says, “Bloor? I’m getting off here too. Now I’m stalking you. Hahaha.” The woman doesn’t respond in any way other than looking exponentially more worried so he quickly adds, “Don’t take that literally.”

The woman nervously laughs one more time, but there is real terror in her eyes as they part ways.

Things You See Letting Out The Universal Sigh

March 29, 2011

Surprisingly, other than almost everyone looking like they stepped off the set of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, the level of douchebaggery at the Toronto distribution site for Radiohead‘s free newspaper, The Universal Sigh, was pretty tolerable.

It wasn’t until I got back to the subway platform that I saw a guy conspicuously reading his copy, constantly looking furtively over his shoulder, as if to make sure people saw he’d scored one, that I was confronted with douchebaggery at all. Even the guys who budded in front of me to chat up the Ryerson journalism student weren’t particularly douchey. Plus, they prevented me from getting interviewed by her for which I was eternally thankful.

But—while watching the twitchy, bespectacled, parka- and skinny jeans-wearing reader pose on the platform and stare at the same page for several minutes—I had to ask myself a question. Who’s the bigger douche?

This champ for trying to look cool or myself for purposely not reading my copy so people would not, heaven forbid, judge me similarly? At least he was being somewhat sincere. His douchery was being flaunted for all to see.

Was not

  1. my denial that I am clearly a puppet happy to let Radiohead pull my strings and make me use my lunch break go somewhere I really prefer to avoid
  2. caring at all what anybody thought what I was reading on the subway, and
  3. judging some kid based on motivations I’d completely fabricated for him when he was probably just a nerdy type with a social anxiety disorder

all factors which add up to me being a douchebag?

I ultimately decided not to obsess (much) over the matter.

Things you see in the subway station

September 8, 2010

Three maintenance workers in orange vests are attempting to release the girl from the stainless steel cage. She’s trapped inside the St. Clair subway station turnstile gate. She wouldn’t be trapped if she hadn’t somehow managed the improbable act of bringing her blue bicycle halfway inside with her.  Two of the men are working with tools and the third appears to simply be talking to the girl, keeping her laughing, maybe trying to keep her from descending into a hysterical episode fueled by panic and embarrassment.

Things you see from the window of your office building

August 20, 2010

White, cottony plumes of smoke rise out of the broccoli-dense cluster of trees. Somewhere down there Kurt Browning’s house is on fire.

Things you see in your kitchen after dark

July 15, 2010

Thursday, 9pm:  A little ways above, at the top of the basement stairs, is the back door of the house. The evening is well into the twilight, almost night, but the deepening grey-blue of the sky still casts a dim, diffused glow through the open door. Heat and humidity hangs in the air.

Making its way towards the door, down the short step out of the kitchen into the small foyer and past the top of the stairs, is the nonchalant, lumbering bulk of a young raccoon.

It moves with a slow, satisfied, unconcerned gait. It probably has a belly full of cat food from the bowl near the sink. It senses movement on the stairs and quickens its exit but, as soon as its tail passes through the door, the raccoon turns to look back inside the house. As the door is slammed in its face, it looks up with the expectant innocence of young child or a career criminal.

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Things you see in the 19th floor men’s room

July 7, 2010

He’s tall, erect, dressed in an impossibly crisp white shirt and grey slacks. His face is rigid as red Mahneshan rock formations. His choice in eyewear is elegant and conservative—the lenses are rimless; the arms are nearly invisible in their thinness.

Not unexpectedly, he is punctual.

Every day at this time he squares off against the mirror holding his toothbrush in an iron fist. His brushing is unforgiving and efficient. When he pulls the brush from his mouth, it is with a series of violent, ripping thrusts. He rakes the bristles across his teeth and gums as if he’s trying to expel them from his mouth with the remnants of his breakfast.

He paces while he brushes. And brushes. And brushes.

It’s a daily assault that never seems to end.

Things you see outside a pub on St. Clair

June 18, 2010

A cigarette smolders between his olive-skinned fingers with slightly less intensity than his eyes. If the plate-glass window of the pub had been solid brick, his glare still would penetrate into the room.

His expression almost doesn’t look genuine; a caricature of frustrated passion. If he were in a movie about a man spying on his ex-lover dining with another man, the audience would complain he’s overplayed the emotion. The anger in his eyes is too palpable, the nervous energy in his limbs too electric. The effect would be almost comical if it weren’t so chilling.

She must be an amazing woman to command this kind of passion. The mind paints a picture of a Mediterranean maiden of unsurpassed exotic beauty. Walking past him and looking over his shoulder, she is revealed. The inspration for the violent jealousy coiled beneath his skin like a snake in the shadows.

The World Cup is playing on the pub’s television.

Things you see in the middle of a sidestreet

June 10, 2010

The mobility scooter slowly drifts around the corner and up the slight hill of the moderately busy Bloor West Village street. For the most part, the driver keeps it in the center of the road yet it weaves slightly under the strain of its load.

The driver herself, a wisp of an elderly woman in mint green, can’t weigh much more than a hundred pounds but the gravity of her expression could crush diamonds into dust.

Equally severe is her passenger straddled on the back of the struggling vehicle; A woman in her forties wearing tight blue jeans, sunglasses, crudely bleached hair and a black leather vest.

Being born to be wild runs in the family.

Things you see in the backyard

June 3, 2010

» The squirrel darts from branch to branch to trunk to branch again barely able to evade the snapping beaks of the two robins in pursuit. Their wings flap against leaves as the squirrel’s claws scratch on bark. They shriek wordless obscenities at each other—the robins out of righteous anger, the squirrel out of indignant terror. Dark feathers and fur circle the maple in a fury of chaos.

» The cat stands almost nose-to-nose with the groundhog in the doorway of the potting shed. The groundhog fidgets back and forth, visibly annoyed by its visitor. The groundhog has things to do today. The groundhog doesn’t have time to make chit-chat with the neighbours.

The cat bristles with youthful enthusiasm, determined to make friends and catch a peek at what the groundhog has been up to in that potting shed. The groundhog gruffly snorts, the cat perks up its ears. With a huff of dismissal, the groundhog turns on its heels and shuffles back into the shadows. Its going to get back to work. The cat is not welcome.

The cat takes a tentative step into the shed.

Things you see on two separate subway cars

May 20, 2010

1 : The voice coming over the speakers of the TTC subway car announces a service disruption between Jane and Islington stations. There are, however, shuttle busses running, never a comfortable alternative to the already barely comfortable transit experience.

Yet the train is still nine or ten stops away so none of the passengers seem overly concerned. Most likely their stop is either far in advance of Jane or they’re confident, however naively, the problem will be cleared before long.

About a half-dozen faces, perhaps less, express a resigned chagrin at the situation—they are probably in for the long-haul to Kipling at the end-of-the-line and have a realistic expectation the disruption will not be cleared any time soon, based on previous experiences when a shuttle-bus was involved.

Still, no one is outwardly concerned. Except one young man.

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