Shock and Awe From Ottawa
Toronto, Wednesday, 1:20 p.m: “Did you feel it?” The woman in the teal skirt tells me she definitely felt it. We huddle together in the wind vortexing between the TTC and the new barely inhabited Quantum Towers. She evidently wishes to keep wearing the skirt while the boisterous wind proposes assorted alternatives.
“I felt it alright,” she says, “everywhere.”
“Word on the street has it coming from Ottawa,” I say. “You know how these things go.”
“I do,” she says, “I do.”
A mild temblor’s the quickest way to build a flash community without having to mention a nation-state or a football. I walk south from Yonge and Eg, asking folks if they felt it. Everyone’s nodding.
“Twelfth floor, fourteenth floor,” everyone is saying together, “higher, lower.” Calculating the significance of the danger they’ve been through. A guy says the sixteenth floor of Heart and Stroke was buckin’ like a bronco. It’s not Haiti, but it’s not nothing, either.
Chicks on bikes with long phallic saddles looming out of their skirts zip past with the AC on full. The quake was mild enough that people on wheels were unlikely to feel it.
It’s not till I get to St. Clair that three women emerge from an upscale yoga studio clinging to their egos like pelts and refuse to answer my question. Essential Canadian rudeness is thus restored within an hour of the tremor. Things return to normal.
The notion of an Ottawa not loosing concentric circles of destruction upon the world will have to wait till another time to be tested as a thought experiment. Destruction from Ottawa is too real this week to brook a disclaimer. The G-men and -woemen have been stirring, like the Balrog or an oil slick, some filth loosed by tampering with things that ought not to have been tampered with. Scum floats.
At seewalk, our smallcap, leaderless nowtopian community living in the cracks of Leaderville in the days of the Occupation, we are wise crackers living in wise cracks.
Ottawa (including its lackey undergovernments) is preparing this weekend to demonstrate its gratitude to the people who support it by dipping into its stash of tasers, firehoses, earbusters, and other experimental ‘try this at home’ hardware—the largest arsenal of friendly fire ever amassed in this highly militarized nation. I’d just like to take a moment to thank all my high school friends in Massachusetts who went to work for Raytheon and made so much of the technical side of this possible.
Canadians who are used to doing unto others while hiding behind the coat tails of the Americans can presumably enjoy a full round of Iraqi-for-a-day right here in Capital City along the south coast of Canada just three hundred miles from the now micro-fractured capitol buildings of the Ottawa River. Squadrons of bike cops too fearful to be found alone in the graffiti alleys I frequent have been moving in tight phalanxes all week through the streets that have the most gilded and vulnerable bank buildings. With their fine legs and cottony-soft lederhosen, the coppers suggest nothing so much as Hitler Youth taking a bit of a healthy constitutional in the Bavarian alps.
“Cowards,” I yell till my voice goes hoarse, “you’re just trying to intimidate us.” As I yell, I look all around like I don’t know where the voice is coming from. Knots of us pedestrians are scanning the area for my voice as it echoes south in the canyon of buildings below College along Yonge. The bike cops blow whistles and point in contradictory directions. As we used to say in the land called America, I may be dumb but I’m not stupid. I have a sort of high girly voice for such a big man, so that helps. For legal reasons, you understand that I have not now, nor have I ever, been party to an illegal activity, and that all apparent claims to the contrary are fanciful or poetic and are for artistic purposes only. The space between this paragraph and the next, between all paragraphs, will tell you everything you need to know.
Word on the street is that they’re spending thirty-five pastelbacks (now worth the same as American greenbacks) for every child, woman, and man in the nation-state to protect the leaders from the people. Security personnel have been making sweeps of everything. My bike was caught in a sweep on King near Yonge—every lock snapped, every bike taken, even the racks themselves pulled up like dandelions. My man Seth found my ratty, sentimental set of wheels in the closet of a bank building, but most people will never see their bikes again. Seth told me they’d used a power grinder to get through my four-pound lock. I’ve taped together the bits with electrical tape, and it’s good to go.
The militarization of the downtown core is past paranoid into the full-blown ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning’ delusional state that is likely to precipitate the very violence it is pretending to thwart, unless everyone is numbed into dreamy compliance first. Citizens have quickly accustomed themselves to the loss of freedoms they had taken for granted just last week. Cops grab cameras from anyone they feel like and erase pictures on the spot. If anyone even pretends to take a picture of the millions of dollars of fences designed to keep the leaders safe from the angry citizens who keep them in dogchow, they are surrounded by a gaggle of uniforms.
With Special Ops Griffons hovering overhead, and cops of every nationality loitering, it is not even clear with which nation-station you’d lodge a complaint if you were afraid your rights were being violated. Best to bend over and enjoy your democracy. Those Griffons are from the Huey family of choppers, which will be reassuring to somebody. Remember them in Vietnam? Pretty efficient way to cut down on overpopulation. Family planning. Bringing battle-tested slice’n’dicers, even if you don’t actually use them on the population, does excellent duty in upping the Richter. Ops’n’cops.
The funniest thing I’ve seen out here, if it isn’t me, is two GRC cops I followed for a bit. They were laughing and fondling their gunbelts and bantering in the Joual French in which I myself love to quack from my months in areas north of Quebec City. They had every right to laugh. Imagine French cops wandering around right here on Front Street with a license to blow away any squarehead anglais motherfuckers they feel like! Go ahead, I double- dare you to say ‘God save the Queen’ to those guys.
Every pig in the world who ever wished he were an Oscar Meyer Weiner or an Armoured Hot Dog is on Front Street today in a Kevlar blanket thinking, why get mad when I can get even?
Just for fun and because I’ve never actually been tasered, I ask the guard blocking the entrance to the freedom cage (do I even need quotation marks for such things anymore?) if jugglers are allowed in. Maybe he’s been dipping into the Tim Hortons or something because he says jovially, “depends. What can you do?” I ride past doing three, extra wobbly for effect, and curl around to see what he thinks while I’m reaching back for a fourth ball. He makes some gesture I figure is acquiescence and off I go.
Freedom cages work both ways, I guess, so I get to yell stuff without the cops being able to get to me, since the squadrons are on the outside now. Union Station is to my left, and there’s a sort of golden kilometer here of fancy buildings that are in the cage and some just outside the cage (what’s the algorithm on that?).
“What are these people ascared of?” I call to all the Mr. Puffies in their little panama dictator uniforms. My Boston accent gets stronger at times like these. “Did those guys in those banks do something real bad that they’re ascared of people?”
Losers, I say, chuckling to myself. I turn back and there’s a phalanx of riotously plumaged five-oh’s incoming at 12 o’clock. The group’s yay long and six abreast. “Oh-oh,” I say, cutting off my chuckle. They bear down on little me in full OK Tiananman Corral showdown mode. In the whole long freedom cage it’s just me and the Sparta re-creators. There’re barking noises coming out of the pack somewhere. At the last second I chicken off to the left and they stomp past on maneuvers that don’t include me. Geez.
I swing along behind F-Troop doing four. Four on two’s hard for me and I can’t really watch the road. A lady Spartan fixes a beady on me and I suddenly figure it’s Miller time. On the west end of the corral Sheriff of Nottingham says, “how the hell’d you get in here?” and another one barks “put your hands on the handlebar” like it’s not a suggestion. I palm the balls and place my pointing fingers straight down on the edge of the bar, which is droopy from earlier crashes. A molecule of my flesh brushes the bar at each finger and fulfills the terms of the law. Like there’s any law but those three—oh-oh.
Three Hitler Youths pick up their bikes but I’m around the corner already, my own bike behind a dumpster, and I’m hiding in the skirts of a lady at a restaurant petting her dog while she giggles. At least I think it’s her dog. Someday I’ll rewrite my life in skirts, in triangles, in petticoat junctions, in swishes of swatch. Maybe I’m really a Canadian, hiding behind someone’s coat tails.
Smells like victory. Can’t tell whose, yet.
Don’t touch that dial. We’ll bring you the latest in a special report on Monday, if all goes well.
David Ker Thomson filed from Toronto. email@example.com