Letter Thirty-Nine

Winter Solstice, 2016
Toronto, ON

Dear Henry

I bet you've already pulled into the landing strip. I bet you're already at home, enjoying all the comforts Toronto has to offer in early winter. Well, it'll nice to see you while you're in town. I thought I'd send you one more letter before the holidays proper kick off.

You know you've lived somewhere for too long when you start recognizing people and names in the paper. Yesterday I saw the headline, "preppy punk", in my newsfeed. Officially dubbed the "lunchtime bandit", he's an early twenties bandit who robbed several banks in the Davisville to Lawrence stretch of Yonge St, all around noon hour. The spree lasted between Nov. 21 and Dec. 17. According to the inspector in charge of the case, his notes are grammatically well crafted.  He may not have a gun, but in the notes he passes to the tellers, he informs them that he's "armed", which is reason enough for them to pass him the cash, without making much of a fuss or a hullaballoo.

Only two or three paragraphs into the Toronto Star article which I was reading (posted on Dec. 20 2016), I realized I recognized the suspect description. I'd seen him long before the bank spree began on Nov. 21, probably in October or thereabouts, steal wine from a local wine store. I was chatting with the location manager at the counter, eating nuts, when the "preppy punk" himself came in. Like the newspaper said, he was clean shaven, with an average build, and an unremarkable face––in fact, he was all around bland; a quality which might be his greatest asset. He went to the back of the store, apparently browsing the shelves. The manager, David, sensing something afoot, excused himself from our conversation, and went to the backroom, where the CCTV footage was displayed. 

I cannot tell you how strange this visual arrangement appeared. David's torso in the storage room, with one leg still in the public area of the store, while, less than a handful of feet away, the unremarkable man perused the wine selection. Until he stopped perusing. With one bottle in his right hand, he came up to the counter, placed the bottle on the counter, mumbled at me, still stuffing my face with nuts, about retrieving his wallet from the car (or something equally innocuous), and exited the store.

Moments later, David came back.

"What did he say?" 

"Well," I replied, "he left this bottle on the counter, and went to his car to grab money."

"Uhuh." David said. "He stole a bottle."

It dawned on me. While lunchtime bandit had placed a bottle of wine from his right hand on the counter, he'd concealed another bottle in his left hand, either under his coat, or in one of its deep pockets.

Iit was smooth. So smooth, I wondered if I might not have somehow aided the thief by perhaps distracting David. But these concerns were easily dropped. 

David went on to say,

"Honestly. It happens. It's just a bottle of wine. Our inventory will be fine."

I'd barely thought of the event until yesterday, when the month long bank spree came to my attention, and I realized how closely the suspect's description matched that of the person I'd witnessed steal a bottle of wine from wine rack: same youthfulness, same build, same nondescript appearance––the type of person who your eyes roll over in the subway without anything to latch on to, like background noise––and, most importantly, same location. The wine rack I'd visited on my way home was between Lawrence and York Mills on Yonge St––right on the norther fringe of Uptown Toronto, which might have even been the corridor of small businesses where the "lunchtime bandit" had first cut his teeth. Unless, of course, these recent thefts constitute his earliest instances of teeth cutting.

The only difference was that, instead of happening at lunch, this was on a Friday evening, and instead of happening at a bank, this was a wine dispensary. Clearly, the "preppy punk", like I had done in the past (hence my acquaintance with the manager), was just grabbing a little something one his way home to usher in the weekend, perhaps as a reward for surviving yet another stressful week on the job, at school, or in his parents' basement.

The other news story brought to my attention yesterday, by contrast, throws the Lunchtime Bandit's actions into a even more humourous light (readers, don't @ me. Crime is crime, but some crime is more reprehensible than others.). It also featured an individual I recognized, and brought me some personal gratification and some revulsion. Gratification, because the event confirmed the general scuzziness of his videos; revulsion, because his actions were revolting.

A few years ago, I took a bartending course with a good friend. And while the course itself was good, and did indeed help me get a job down the road, I came away from the experience with smaller opinion of the profession. This was because of the sliminess of the school, which in retrospect was a tone probably set by the owner and designer of the curriculum. Although I'd never met him personally, I had to watch videos in which he performed and taught. In these videos he never insinuated anything gross or sexual, but his general attitude and appearance exuded a slimy outlook on life. He worshiped flare bartending, his clothing choices were sleek and unoriginal––like a gleaming sports car in the driveway of a bloated suburban McMansion–– and he encouraged toadiness to patrons. My unpopular opinion for the day: When someone doesn't exercise self-respect in their relations with people they attend to for financial rewards, then it's less surprising when they display total lack of character in other, far more consequential, situations.

Last Friday, he and a younger employer forcibly confined a young women at a College Street bar (no pun intended) which he is the owner of, where they sexually assaulted her. 

In comparison to that story, the Lunchtime Bandit looks downright wholesome.

In any case, the extremity of this behaviour does help me clarify a thing or two. Like fruit flies and honey, bartending does seem to attract more slime balls than the average profession. Even so, my impression of bartending as slimy must be due, at least partly, to the fact that I got my early education from one of its leading slime balls. The obvious corrective is to avoid these people and the bars that protect them whenever possible.

Also, this city is too goddamn small.

Yours as always,

Sal