Wednesday, June 27, 2007

We're All Going To Die

I work on the twelfth floor of a building in downtown Toronto. It is the top floor. The view is quite nice. There are, however, a number of downsides.

Emergency situations, for example.

We've had two fire drills in the time I've been at the company. The first one was shortly after we'd moved in. When the fire drill happened, we had no idea what to do. It seemed like we weren't the only ones. Our whole floor piled out and into the emergency exit stairwell only to make it to the 10th floor and stop, blocked by everyone from the floors below us. We stood in the stairwell for about 10 minutes.

Finally, someone came over the loudspeaker. "Gfhfh ghflj farlfh gofhgla. Thank you." In a real emergency, we would have died in the stairwell. It took us half an hour to get out of the building.

Once we were outside, we had no idea where to go. Apparently every floor has a designated waiting area. The person who was supposed to know ours failed to attend the meeting where those were handed out. "Go somewhere! Go for lunch! Just get out of here, I don't know where we're supposed to stand," she chided.

In light of all this, we were all sent extremely detailed instructions before this years fire drill, by e-mail. I never read my e-mail. There's just too much of it. When the fire alarm went off, T and I decided it was a good time to go for coffee. So out we went and down the stairs and we made it all the way to the 5th floor before being blocked by the lower floors. Off we went for coffee. When we got back, our floor had been evacuated. We found them across the street and went to stand with them. Apparently the instructions we got included fierce warnings about food and drink in the emergency stairwells.

"Did you take that in the stairwell?!" I was asked with incredulity. "You're going to get in so much trouble!"

What are we, in grade 3, here? Everybody tie your hands the skipping rope, we're going for a walk. Yeesh. "No, I just went and got it," I explained.

In the end, we all survived the fire drill. I have, however, started searching craigslist for used parachutes to keep at my desk for future emergencies.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Unkindness of Strangers

I'm feeling pretty bitter about living in the city right now.

So a friend of mine needed a bike. We tried and tried to find her one and nothing seemed to be quite right. Bikes in the city of TO are way over priced, I think. Especially used ones. So anyway, I dug up some parts and grabbed my mom's old racing frame and went to work putting together the coolest bike ever. During all of that I realised that what I really want to do is put together a fleet of coolest bikes ever and use them to give bike tours of the city.

Since I had a big pile of bike junk already from the first bike, I was already well on my way. I bought a clunker off of craigslist and got another one for free off of craigslist and chained them and all the parts up out front.

I had a friend, H, come visit from out of town. I get around mostly on bike these days so I figured if she and I were going to hang out, she'd need a bike. Also on my bike-to-do list was teaching my friend, A (of breakfast buddy fame) to ride. Can you believe she's never ridden a bike before? Anyway, H and A are of similar size so I figured that the clunker bike was an ideal candidate for both tasks. I fixed it up. H said it was a really smooth ride, despite looking like a pile of rusty bars.

So yesterday morning, I got up and looked out the window at my pile of bike stuff, including the now-functional clunker. Or, rather, not including the clunker. Overnight, someone had stolen it. No teaching A to ride. Great.

After dim sum with the Usual Suspects (I know, dim sum on a Saturday, what the heck?) I met up with an old friend and wandered around the city a bit. I had a small pick-me-up when we ran across a group of buskers on xylophones at Bloor and Spadina. It was really neat. There 5 xylophones.

That temporary regrowth of faith in my fellow man was quite dispelled this morning, however, when I looked out my window to see some guy with a pair of pliers ripping apart one of my frames.

"Hey!" I yelled out the window, "that's my bike!"

"It's not a bike, it's a frame," the guy responded quite calmly. Your logic is infallible, I thought.

"Thanks," I snapped. "It's still mine."

He gestured to my pile of bike stuff and asked if it was all mine. I told him it was.

Without any apology or atonement whatsoever he said "okay" and walked away from the pile.

I think I'm going to get a pellet gun, like one might use for deterring rodents in the country. Not strong enough to really hurt them but enough to sting them and make sure they don't come back for a while.

That way, instead of semantic debates about the differences between the word "bike" and the word "frame" I can vent my frustration and get the point across all at once.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Something In The Air

Ah, Chinatown in the summer.

For those of you who don't know, I live right next to Chinatown in downtown Toronto. I lived in the area once for a few years, moved away for two, then came back. It's a really great place to live, mostly. It's very convenient. I can walk about 20 minutes and reach almost anything - the ROM, the club district, work, the harbour, Queen Street, Little Italy, Koreatown, Yorkville, the list goes on. And except when I'm trying to sleep, living on a major streetcar route is very handy. There's always that one streetcar with the deformed wheel that, instead of gliding silently up the tracks goes "cl-clack cl-clack" as the flat spot hits the track on ever rotation of the wheel.

On the weekend I took a little walk through Chinatown after visiting my garden. There is a Tim Horton's now in Chinatown. I grew up in a small town where Tim Horton's is something of an institution. It is a little unnerving to see something that you equate to small town Ontario with Chinese writing all over it.

After grabbing my iced cappuccino, I walked home. The intersection of Spadina and Dundas is a loud one, to say the least. For as long as I have lived in Toronto, there have been four noisemaking fixtures at that intersection.

First is the old man in front of the dollar store. He claps backscratchers together and sings "Harro. Prease camban yeen. Sank you," over and over all day long. I think I've only ever walked by there once during normal business hours and not seen him. I was pretty worried but the next day I went and he was back. Phew.

Then there's the old man who plays that two stringed Chinese instrument whose name I can never remember. I think it might be called the er hu. He's got the classic Chinese long whispy beard and mustache. I used to quite enjoy listening to his music. Over the years he's gotten less and less musical. It mostly just sounds like random notes now. Interestingly, though, his clothes have gotten nice and nicer. Maybe he discovered that people would give him more money if he sounded pathetic than if he sounded good.

Across Dundas street from the er hu player is Falun Gong. Recently they have taken a much more pleasant, although no less noisy tack. There used to be weird pictures of people being tortured by the government and stuff. Now they have pictures of peace marches and things. But still noisy. Always with the noise.

And finally there is the guy with no arms who plays the keyboard. Sometimes the blind flautist plays with him. Seriously. The no arms guy wails out the melody with his stumps and the keyboard's built in drum machine and chord library take care of the rest. His tunes are usually original (and loud) and quite catchy (and loud). Did I mention loud? Anyway, this weekend for the first time I can remember, I heard him play a cover — there is something quite touching about a man with no arms playing Oh Canada for spare change in Chinatown.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

You Wanna Fight?

People seem to want to pick fights with me. I don't know what it is. Just tonight at volleyball, one of the opposing players started kicking sand at me while I wasn't looking. Totally unprovoked. Well, maybe not totally.

Although sometimes it is completely inexplicable. Like last week. I was buying some bike parts from a guy I'd found on craigslist.

I dragged my friend E along because he is good with bikes. The place wasn't hard to find, although it was a little hard to get to — the street on which the house was located was under heavy construction and closed off halfway down.

I parked somewhat illegally and we walked up to the house. A guy about my age answered the door. He took us around back and we poked at the pile of bike junk with a flashlight. After we'd sorted out which parts I needed, E asked the guy, "how much for that frame?"

"I was kind of hoping to get rid of all of it," the guy said.

That is how I wound up buying 3 whole frames in various states of completeness, but one constant state of workingness: not.

So, back to the original point of the story. The bikes needed to be dismantled (ever further) to fit into my hot little (read: ridiculous) sports car. There we were, three guys standing next to my car, one with a flashlight in his mouth, taking apart bikes in the dark.

Then some guy in a suped up Honda Civic came down the street, talking on his cell phone while driving. As I mentioned, the street was under severe construction and closed halfway down. As he reached the barriers he clearly failed to notice the convenient alleyway off to the side. His solution was to back down the street which had cars parked on both sides. We're talking mere inches of clearance here. All the while still talking on his cell phone, of course.

I was fascinated and flabbergasted. I watched him intently, waiting for the sound of metal scraping metal. About 2 cars back past me he stopped, stuck his head out the window and asked, "You got a problem?"

"No," I said, "we're okay, thanks," figuring that he was offering us assistance. We probably looked like some guys trying to fix a flat tire or something, I thought.

"Cuz you were kind of staring at me," he snapped, before continuing back down the road.

Apparently I don't even have to open my mouth to get people to want to fight me. Who'd have guessed?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

What An Apple

Yesterday was my little brother's birthday. He just turned 22. He lives with his girlfriend and her son and their dog. It's weird when your little brother grows up into a normal person. Here is a little family anecdote in his honour. Happy birthday, bro.

I remember one time when my family was all out front of our house doing gardening or some other "character building" manual labour. I'm going to say my brother was about 4 or 5. I grew up sort of out in the middle of the boonies. The front lawn is very long. The road is over 100m away from the house.

So we're all out working in the front yard and this pickup truck comes to a screeching halt in front of the house. A woman comes tumbling out the passenger seat, screaming obscenities at the top of her lungs. The truck roars off, the woman yelling all the while.

We're all standing there watching, kind of flabbergasted. She starts walking down the road. The truck comes hurtling back and stops again right next to her. She screams some more and then gets in and then the truck pulls away.

We stand there again, utterly dumbfounded, staring out at the road for a little while.

Finally, my little brother breaks the silence: "Mom. She called him an apple."

Somehow, mom kept a mostly straight face and said, "That's okay, honey, I call your dad an apple all the time."

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Gotta Be The Hat

I like it when strangers talk to me. I tend to do things to cultivate whatever it is about me that allows complete strangers to strike up conversation with me as though they've known me for a long time.

One of my favourite ways of doing so is the Witty Banter Game. This works well on pretty girls, which is possibly why it is one of my favourites. Basically, I hold a private conversation with one of my friends, but I do so in a slightly over-projected voice. I make sure the subject matter is something generic enough that anyone can chime in. Pepper the conversation with a few jokes and voila, people suddenly want to talk to you. I have two friends who are particularly good foils for me in this game. They both have deep, projectable voices and are good straight-men.

Another thing that's good for making people talk to you is gardening. I recently got a little plot at the community centre. On the first day I had two complete strangers tell me their life stories. Since then lots of people have stopped to chat with me while I'm gardening. Everything from agricultural advice, to recounting random memories that have somehow been dredged up by my garden, to "pretty flowers!"

Yesterday I set up the sprinkler and sat in my lawn chair reading while my garden was watered. There is quite possibly nothing more entertaining than a sprinkler in a public place which is frequented by small children.

So my latest attention grabber is my new fedora. It's taken me a really long time to find a suitable hat. My head is huge and sort of round and just generally not a good place to perch a hat. This one works, though. It has been, by far, the best tool for attracting strangers' attention. Last, night about 1:30AM as I was walking down Front St, someone actually yelled out of her car, "nice hat!"

I wore it to the club last weekend. It was a total hit. Although I have to be honest, a lot of strangers want to put it on. I keep having these flashbacks grade 3 when they talked about lice and so forth. One girl who wanted to try on my hat evidently had the same flashback.

"It's okay, we don't have lice or any diseases," she promised.

"You know," I said, "that's not a very good pickup line."