26 February 2017
The Letter About Nothing
My break is coming to a close, and I'm tomorrow I'm back in the harness, galloping to the finish line. If I had my choice, the pace would be accelerated; as you might have guessed, bringing this portion of my life to a close has taken on religious significance, and dwarfs all of my other interests by comparison––almost.
The weather is mild. I'm not bragging when I say to you how disappointing that is. I've lived in this country my whole life, but this feels like the first winter since before I remember that I've liked. But I digress. This letter is supposed to be a letter about nothing. No complaints: just a document of things I witness.
Sometimes, Henry, when you listen closely you can almost pick out a pattern in the random noise in which we're embedded. Probably it's just the Rorschach effect.
I was taking the Spadina streetcar south, heading to Dundas to grab some lunch. On entering, there were two tramp-travellers and their two dogs. One of the dogs was sleeping, sprawled across the floor like she were in the lap of luxury. I sat down nearby, making sure not to step on her tail.
The male tramp was carrying the conversation, while his female counterpart would encourage him with murmers and uhuhs and I know what you means and so forth. I don't what they had been talking about, but when I sat down, he was talking about animal suffering, and how we should respond to it.
I've kill animals before, he said. One time I killed a bird. Its wings were broken. The crowd around was like, call Animal Services, or something. I didn't wait. I stepped on its head. They got pissed. It's called a mercy killing, buddy, I said. Animal Rescue ain't gonna do shit.
Another time I was out west. I was just sitting there, and someone was like, buddy, what's that in your bag. I turned my head, and there was a rat! I tried to coax it into my hand. It wouldn't have none of it. It jumped! Landed hard, broke its back. I tried to feed it. But it wasn't getting better. It was suffering. So I lifted my heel, and ground its skull into the pavement. The weather-beaten traveller chewed his nail, before concluding, Yah, I do mercy killings.
The conversation lulled.
You know, it would be harder with a dog though. He paused again. Fucking, I was a kid, back on the farm, we were getting ready for school once. We heard a squeal outside, then a thunk. I looked up. Man, I'll never forget the look on my mom's face. Our dog, hit. The driver was sorry, so sorry. Our dog was all mangled up, making sounds and shit. My dad said, get back inside. Me and my sister didn't want to, but he said, do it. Get ready for school. We were driving away, mom clenching the wheel, when I heard the gun shot.
The streetcar pulled into Dundas. I was standing in the crush of passengers. He said some word––I honestly couldn't hear it. He said, anyone know what that means. He scanned the crowd. We made eye contact. You? he said. I shrugged. Fucking, I'm the only French guy here, he said.
I ate my sandwich, and went to the coffee shop, where I sat in the back room, and pulled out my book. To my left were two people talking, in the far corner were a couple, ostensibly on a date, and to my write was an old man typing on his laptop. I just hit my stride when the back door opened, and in came a middle-aged dude. He saw the old man, said Hey, been a while, and sat down next to him. He pulled out his own laptop, and began to type. They made a little small talk, about things like the market and programming, which it appeared the middle-aged dude was at the coffee shop to do. Later, this character went out for a smoke, and came back in with his BMX, which he parked in the hall to the bathroom. Meanwhile to my left were the other pair, an older woman and a younger man. They were talking politics (Trump), and he was trying to explain the important overlap between anarchism and libertarianism, right where the political horseshoe begins to kiss.
As for the couple on a date, the woman was leading the conversation, largely around places she'd been to. They were talking about Thailand. Then they'd veer to Israel. She wore dark clothes, and had a tattoo on her forearm. He wore jeans and a blue American Eagle polo shirt. He had a thick accent, and judging by their mutual interest in Israel, and his relative animation regarding Israel's countryside, I thought he might be, in fact, Israeli. Then the conversation would pause, and he would ask, tentatively, where else would you like to go. Oh, hard question, she said. Umm. Everywhere!
Honestly, I wasn't very interested in this couple. I was just impressed by how quickly she ended the interview. They'd been vacuously trying to find common ground when she just, abruptly, but with conviction, told him, Look, I'm sorry, but I just don't feel a connection. She smiled, and he protested––completely insincerely might I add––Oh no! She laughed, and said Yes. He picked up his coat, and left. She stayed and texted for a few minutes before leaving herself.
But before she left, the conversation between the old man and his younger companion suddenly became serious. The older man said, Actually, I didn't come here to work. I came here to see my daughter. I haven't seen her in a couple months, and I know she's... He trailed off. I know she comes to this coffee shop sometimes, he continued, so I'm here. Hopefully she'll be here tonight.
His companion continued typing, staring fixedly at his computer screen, eyes impenetrable behind dark sunglasses. A silence ensued. Finally, the older man changed the subject, saying, so what kind of processor did you say you got? His companion responded with a long-winded explanation I don't think anybody understood but him. I went home, leaving the older man, waiting in the back room, while his younger companion programmed beside him.
As I alluded to earlier, there might be patterns in all this noise, or I might just be projecting my own thoughts onto what is in essence random. But why over-complicate? It might not be as tightly woven as a symphony, but there's something going on. It's not a unifying story, but maybe it's a genre: hell, maybe it's one big troubled and ongoing soap opera. As we've joked in the past, our lives resemble soap operas more than we care to admit; and my desire to remember things I see could be a silver-plated nosiness regarding The Lives of Others (premiering March 7th on all quality cable networks)––a property which, alongside gossip, is endemic to soap operas. Finally if there are themes that unite these conversations, they are the desire to connect with others (principally), and the question, how to be human?––themes that strike me to be at home in the best soap operas, even if not explored with great depth.
Except there are details which don't serve these themes or that genre. Even this mundane document––which I've intended to be a reprieve from larger issues, and to be a carbon copy of the everyday––has an element of the political that wrangles the boundaries I've set and runs counter my designs. I guess it's just typical of the times. All spheres have been penetrated. Could you imagine a show like Seinfeld in 2017? I look forward to how Larry David handles this year's season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Even he engaged with politics the last year or two, when he parodied Sanders' Brooklyn Jew demeanour... Instead of a show about nothing, we seem to be careening toward a show about everything.
I've attached a photo, taken around three weeks ago, of Chinatown, where I overheard these conversations. There's a little Easter egg, hidden in the cityscape. Let me know if you can find it. The clue: I've included this egg in previous photos.