I hear that in the canyons of Mannahatta those occupied in the walls look at those occupying the streets and profess ignorance of their motives, as if there were some difficulty in understanding the historically recent transfer of billions of dollars from street level to wall level to keep the wall occupations flush. Gee, I wonder what they’re doing in the street?
Meanwhile it’s Vote X day in ’nadaland along the 45th parallel and the little murderettes are driving to my corner here at Hepbourne and Dovercourt to X out anything worth saving, hailing their lesser weevil chiefs. They go “baa baa” to each other as they step in to the box to be shorn.
My poet, who stays unreal for fear of reprisal, tells me that the age-old wall/street tension is only ever resolved satisfactorily with the destruction of the walls and the—is he allowed to say this?—hanging of the occupants by the digits that’ve sealed their sweetest deals. Of course we would never condone such action.
For our part this week at world street level, we wish to praise the high school students, Oulipo artists to a lass and lad, who saw through the bullshit of street signs in general and of certain yellow ones in particular. These yellow ones in my neck of the urban forest are designed to reward drivers who can’t see child-size objects lying in the road. Praise to the artists of Peed Bum, therefore, who took the S and P off the Speed Bump signs along the Daytona 500 that’s the kid-filled lanes and streets around here. These visionaries saw through the emperor’s clothes to the pee and the bum at the heart of welfare to cars. Urban drivers are bums who have grown fat at the common trough. Do you think we’re fooling around here?
A driver who needs an additional sign to see bright white-striped objects the size of four six-year-olds lying end-to-end in the middle of the street and weighing three or four thousand pounds (in some parts of Anglo-America called zebras or sleeping policemen) is like a wall occupationist who can’t see a man in the street he’s helped to pauperize. Some occupations pay, some don’t. A driver who needs an explanatory sign for large objects is the opposite of a visionary. Let real policemen sleep in the streets, says my poet.
Apparently a wallitician at town hall reckoned that Toronto drivers aren’t mollycoddled enough and so authorized the expensive Speed Bump signs to provide a caption for the sort of people who need things spelled out for them. Every day for drivers it’s Romper Room day, with signs posted on basic objects. Po-lice, Speed Bump, Intersection.
Pedestrians have more time than drivers I guess and they get lengthy signs, also yellow, explaining to them that they if want to cross the street they should walk or shove their wheelchairs a quarter of a mile around to the next major intersection so that the cars will have unimpeded progress through their neighborhoods. The long discursive signs (check out Rusholme and Bloor, for example) leave out the part about how the drivers are leadfooting it through city neighborhoods in the first place because they want to live in the suburbs and pay fewer taxes.
The ostensible “safety” budget implied by the signs didn’t extend so far as to get the lights working at the pedestrian crossing at Ossington and Dewson Monday through Wednesday. Not that my poet believes in such “rez spaces,” as he calls them, but drivers sure do. Round up all the bastards on two feet and funnel them through the X like one of Temple Grandin’s cattle squeeze chutes, so reassuring to the cows until they realized they’ve been duped.
The big X’s on the vote signs are like the X’s in the pedestrian squeeze chutes. X and 0 look like love, XO XO, but they’re the alphanumerics of deletion. Every X text since Malcolm’s just been a footnote. The big crossing X’s with their flashing lights cover a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of the space reserved for car parking in the city, and such laughable largesse is used to cover and justify the multitude of sins in which the drivers indulge. These X lands are free speech zones and they garner the respect of any free speech zone in a democracy, including large objects hurtling through trying to kill people. X is the crosshairs of cultural animosity. X is for vendetta. X is two vendettas fighting it out. Send your children through the chute if you dare. Vote X. Vote for murder. Vote. But now I’m sounding like my poet.
The immediate result of the two days’ worth of broken bulbs at Oz and Dew was that drivers already seething with self-righteousness found the crosswalk filled with the irritating biomass of four lanes of still-living children (at 8:45 a.m. and 3:45 p.m., quel surprise!), not to mention the crossing guard, old man Wu himself, slowing the cars down with his own body. The view from the cockpit, if rev’d engines and accelerating bumpers were any indication, probably showed that the children and the crossing guard were too damn lazy to push the button and therefore deserved to be run over. Pedal to the metal.
You [sub]urban drivers who cut yourself so much slack and you (not so dissimilar) wall dealers with the vicious companies you trade in: do you really think history will be as kind to you as you are to yourselves? You’re a bunch of meanies who will be tinkled on, you farces: mene mene tekl upharsin. The writing’s on the wall. Up your arses you farces. Upharsin. Heed the wisdom of Peed Bum, lest you become a watchword and a byword amongst men. You wall occupationists, do you think that we think you’re getting rich by trading in and with companies that are figuring out how to—hmm, let’s see—help unemployed guys build passive solar on their roofs with gleaned glass, or companies that’ve figured out how to help folks grow carrots on their roofs with legacy seeds? You really think you’re rich because you’re smarter, or just more of a douche? Be kinder to the street, and stop pretending you don’t understand the street occupation. We know how you’re making your money.
Death to tyrants, my poet says, death to tyrants till every urban street is occupied by foxes and children and food plants. Tear down the walls. But I’m all about compromise, settling that poet down, muting his plain speech. The problem with poets is they just want to say it. But you can’t do that in a democracy. Those boys in blue are going to come knocking late at night again, I tell him, if you just say what you’re thinking again. You gotta beat around the bush, I tell him, be wise as serpents and all that.
Nevertheless I will say that our standard is poor, if we have a standard or a flag at all, and we bear it with pride. Standard and poors, that’s our march, our street mete. Our pride is the pride of the poor of the street, and we hope to extend the Oulipo S&P deletion to five hundred signs, the S&P 500. To every sign in the world, says my poet. Let the truth of Peed Bum go out on Planet Garrison wherever men are walled-in, pawned. Walled-in, pawned. Say it out loud. Walled-in, pawned. Mene mene tekl upharsin.
David Ker Thomson, like the verb “bark,” is of echoic origin. He lives in the Holocene. dave dot thomson at utoronto dot ca