Wednesday, August 12, 2009

(no title)

I step onto the streetcar last night, black clouds again threatening downtown. I sit, and watch a man sit in the seat ahead and across from mine.

He was immaculately dressed. He wore a grey flannel pinstripe suit, brown oxfords and grey socks, with a white shirt and pale blue tie with orange diagonal stripes. He was deeply tanned, and looked as though he had just had his hair cut, and I suspected that he looked this way every day.

He carried a small brown briefcase made of calfskin, and from it he pulled paper from it talking about opening an account.

Then the real fun began - what did he do? Was he a banker? Seemed a little north for that...a bureaucrat? Maybe, sometimes political staffers dress this way, but there was something just not quite right about that, an ease with which he carried himself that made me suspect that he didn't spend his days being barked at by the former real estate agent from wherever who is now the Minister of Whatever.

It occured to me that he might work selling clothes, at Holt Renfrew or Harry Rosen, but there is often an undertone to people who work there, the scent of people who spend all their time catering to the rich, and indeed are outfitted like the rich, and yet none of it is theirs. He lacked this quality.

So imagine my surprise when I find myself at the Royal Ontario Museum, having lunch with my mom and my son, and this very man walks past me, in the same suit, and walks back into "employees only" part of the cafeteria at the ROM, which they call the Food Studio, as I suppose it allows them to charge more for juice boxes.

He works at a museum, in food services...the mind strains, maybe he's a curator I wonder, even though any ROM curators I've met so far would have trouble tying a clip-on, let alone master the sartorial depths of this gentleman.

No, let's just let this one play out. He works in a big, beautiful museum, running the food services department (food services - could there be a less gustatory term for providing people with nourishment?).

Never in a million years would I have imagined that.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Back to Paper

Last week, after again reading some news article online and then rubbernecking at some of the moronic comments left at its footer, I decided that I would avoid reading newspapers online, save for the New York Times, which doesn't allow comments beneath its articles.

Why? Regular readers know I don't like a lot of online commenting (maybe that's why no one ever comments here....hmmmm....uh oh), and I've decided that maybe I should do something about it.

So far, going back to reading things in print has been a pretty pleasant experience. One's tastes tend to be more catholic - I find myself reading a lot of articles that I wouldn't bother with online, and, frankly, as an aesthetic experience, reading a paper is vastly more satisfying than reading on a desktop.

I still believe there's too much heft to most papers, especially on weekends. I do believe that there's a market in Toronto for a small "daily briefing" kind of paper, something cosmopolitan, that situates local news in a broader context alongside thoughtful, mixed commentary. In other words, something along the line of the Financial Times (still bar none my favourite paper), but closer to the size of the local free papers.

I believe that people starving for this kind of thing would pay well for it, just to avoid the ads. All that remains is for someone to start this paper!

By the way, if all this sounds familiar, it's because I've written on the same thing before. Think of it as online recycling.

Friday, August 07, 2009

No More Promises

I just finished reading Genesis. A few thoughts:

1) Joseph is the most pious character in Genesis, and therefore the least likable, when taking Genesis as a literary whole.

2) Much of Genesis concerns God favouring someone, and that someone screwing up, usually pretty badly, leaving God with egg on his his face, because, being God, he doesn't feel as though he can renege. But he always keeps trying, until he just kind of absents himself from the second half of the book, with lots of "God of your father" stuff, and not a lot of God actually being around. Compare and contrast this with Jesus' feelings about his apostles, which often borders on exasperation.

3) My favourite character in Genesis is Esau, in part because his name shows up in a disproportionate number of crossword puzzles.

4) If there is anything to be learned from Genesis, it's to never trust your siblings.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Internet and Shame

One man posts a video of his child driving a car, and suddenly this is some great no-no, an act of unbridled stupidity?

Isn't going out onto a backcountry road and getting a taste of adulthood one of the great joys of childhood? I would like to know how people haven't had this experience as children. Would a video of a child toasting and sipping some wine at Christmas meet with the same approbation? After all, drinking under age is illegal, isn't it?

It seems here that what's really wrong is posting the video. In this way the Internet seems far, far less like a democratic forum, where people vote and deliberate, and more like a courtroom, where people judge and sentence others. This distinction seems be and large to have been lost on people.

So as one fixes their lives online, those lives get fixed to the law, and out the window are all the informal and subtle rules and pleasures of a culture.

I promise soon to post more optimistic things! I am just getting the hang of things after a long absence.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Some Notes Around West Queen West

I took a walk along Ossington yesterday. During the day, the strip retains it's pre-hip entertainment area feel, which is to say, relatively quiet and rather charming.

At the foot of Ossington, I turned west along Queen and walked all the way to Gladstone. Along my way, I was stopped by a young man on a bike, who told me he had just gotten out of jail, and that he didn't want to do anything stupid to get some money, and was wondering if I could help him out. I said I was sorry, that I had no money (which was true, I rarely have money on me), and he biked off down Queen Street.

I've been asked for money many, many times here in Toronto, but this was the first time someone had actually implied to me that a) he was going to "do something", as in go rob a store, if I didn't give him some money, the implication then being that I would be somehow responsible for his bad action, and/or b) that I might in fact become the victim of his inability to acquire money. Maybe even right now.

Either choice put the onus on me to prevent harm, to myself or to others. In other words, he feared his own incontinence, or more precisely, he felt that conveying this as his de facto marketing strategy was a way of standing out amongst the local begging community, most of whom are mentally ill and therefore, at least to me, have become a kind of secular mendicant class in our post-institutional society.

I am genuinely curious to know if it works for him, although I am little desire to encounter him again.


Moments after this experience, I strolled into the Drake General Store. The Drake Hotel, credited with "revitalizing" this part of Queen Street, has expanded this revitalization to include pornographic colouring books and vintage Mickey Mouse trapeze toys.

Yes, there really are pornographic colouring books. I don't really see the fun in colouring this kind of stuff, really, wouldn't it be more fun to draw, but there you have it. As for the Mickey Mouse trapeze toy, I mention it because a) I had one as a child, and b) they are selling them for $20. A quick search on the Internet reveals the average price of this toy to be around $5. If mine still exists, I would be happy to kind of split the difference and sell it to one of my readers for $10. If there are any takers you know how to get in touch with me.

It might come as a surprise to you that despite it's name, the Drake General Store has little in the way of things that one might associate with general stores of yore, you know, things like food and blankets. I suspect this is some kind of ironic ploy on their part, a wink in the direction of their clientele that what is general about the store is its diffuse range of kitschy objects.

Nevertheless, I can imagine some hapless tourist, in need of band-aids, finding their way into the Drake General Store and being slightly disappointed and somewhat confused. Especially with the neon purple Swiss cross hanging outside the door.

Oh, and another thing, the guy in the store said nothing and looked at no one. This may come as a surprise to you, but my Drake hotel experiences have been generally good, and the staff friendly and courteous, so I was a little bit surprised by this. Perhaps he'd just coloured outside the lines of the "Behind the Green Door" page of his colouring book and was sulking.


Once I hit Gladstone, I decided to walk north, off Queen street and into the residential neighbourhood. It was only then that it hit me - I do not like this strip of Queen street anymore. It was visceral actually, a kind of revulsion at the fact that there is a brand new poutine...(store? restaurant? poutinerie? (I think the last one is correct) poutinerie, run by a pair of very nice guys who have built a very nice place that sells...just poutine. Poutine. It's good poutine, by the way, but that's not the point.

Have I mentioned before how many local places around here have a house poutine? Many. And yet most of them fail to be as good as what one can get at a Harvey's in Montreal. Not that I eat much poutine, mind you, but I have yet to convinced of its ascension into the pantheon of dishes worthy of extensive culinary experimentation, its value as an aesthetic object. This is mostly because of bad gravy.

Toronto, just as you've only begun to wake to the possibilities of very fine coffee, you seem to be years away from gravy that doesn't taste like it was once powder contained in a foil-lined pouch. And yet, we can already see that poutine's brief star is waning, to be soon replaced by the grilled cheese sandwich.

If the hipster Pravda that is Blogto is right, and they usually are, there will be many nice establishments selling $16 grilled cheese sandwiches using only 16 kinds artisinal cheese from Ancaster Bros Farm pre-blended exclusively for the local grillé-fromagerie. And nothing else.


If one detects a certain malaise coming out as a kind of inchoate rage here, I apologize. If it is not to your liking, I would direct you to many of the fine blogs I link to on my sidebar. I just feel the need to say, kind of publicly, that West Queen West is not going to be a very nice place to live or visit in about 4 years. I could be wrong, but I suspect I won't be.