I can’t really afford public transportation in Toronto after the fare hikes of the last few years. And I’ve been pretty close to abandoning routine travel on the TTC for reasons that aren’t just about money, despite the quaint charm of its nineteenth-century-style equipment.
But it’s scary to switch over to bikes for cross-city riding. Far more bicyclists are killed here in Murder City than any of its soldiers are killed in all the current Canadian wars put together (a wimpy 158 dead for the whole country since 2002 and that’s for every town, not just Toronto—and 26 of those are self-inflicted things like friendly fire, suicide, and three-point parking in an ethnic tow-away zone) so the plain fact is that war in Afghanistan is a picnic compared to bicycling in Toronto.
But I’m going to do it. Switch over more fully to the war zone. Still, you have to watch out for friendly fire, if that’s your metaphor. Imagine if in addition to all the cyclists already killed, the surviving cyclists went around Toronto singing “Four Dead in To-Ron-To” to the Neil Young tune and subjecting each other to friendly fire. My gear ratio’s better than yours. Is not. Is so. Significant pause. Not now it isn’t.
Well. Can’t walk far because of my knee, so bike it’ll have to be. The final straw in my revulsion for the TTC came on Sunday just outside Spadina Station: a cop beating up a man for no other reason than that he could get away with it while a black (!) TTC employee stood by holding a walkie-talkie and offering no impediment to the officer.
A little race-riot tableau with the bit parts distributed at random. (Okay, you stand there with the walkie-talkie but don’t pander to your audience, twist it up a bit, make ’em think. Not too hard—they’ve been reading Ron Paul articles. Meanwhile I’ll pretend to kick the shit out of Frank here. Frank’ll be, what? Oh, I know, Frank can be Rosa Parks, fare evader. See? Evading cultural fare? No wait, I know. Frank’s MLK, just after he’s realized that non-violence against these creeps isn’t going to cut it, but it’s too late and I got his ass on the trunk. “Hard-On For Martin” It’s got pathos! It’s got pizzazz!) An ob-scene.
It doesn’t matter what the man did or what the cop imagined the man did, there’s no call to beat someone who isn’t resisting. Is there? Or maybe there is a call, and that walkie-talkie had something to do with it?
So this is Sunday, yeah, and the next day my ex-wife’s going to be having her citizenship ceremony, and they’ve gotta take an oath in French and you aren’t allowed to cross your fingers, and then you have to sing Oh Canada in English, how fucken romper room is this, and there’s me not there for her to offer her a stiff-armed salute or anything, like they used to do in America in the 1930’s. What was she thinking?
So that’d be Monday. But on Sunday, well. Or maybe put Sunday and Monday together and you’ve got the ex-wife on lyrics and the cop’s on base with here a wack there a wack, bonin’ Jack Kerouac. Oh-oh, Canada.
On Sunday the victim of Canada was offering no resistance and remained quiet but the cop just kept smashing him into the top of the trunk of his cruiser, over and over, why not, twisting his arm higher and higher, and raging hysterically at the man about “how to talk to a police officer.” This is the kind of cowardly sadist who will one day be purged or returned to Barrie for re-servicing.
For now, this country? They send their cops to Arizona for workshops on beating Mexicans. Si, con el palo grande. As Canadians liked to say simultaneously in French and English during the Olympics, “we were made for this.” I got the Arizona googly here but I’m not linkin it because you know it’s true, don’t you? You just know in your heart it’s true. Arizona workshops. Oui, nous l’aimons comme ça, baby.
Choke a kid to death like the cops did with that Junior Manon last year here in Nueva Arizona del Norte and you’ll get off Scott free, free as bitter marmalade and steel-cut oats, because you were just engaged in “positional asphyxiation.” Take your time, who cares how many witnesses there are?
Take your time. Positional asphyxiation. Jesus. As my Toronto dad used to say, if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. Every month it’s something like that in Toronto the Good, Toronto El Bueno. As I went past the TTC employee who was doing nothing to stop the beating outrage—the cop was keeping his crotch pressed against the guy while he pummeled his victim to get that extra frisson, what the French call a boner—I leaned into Walkie-Talkie’s ear and said very clearly, “do you agree with this?” and kept walking.
Then get this. Someone—I won’t say if it was me—started yelling “Occupy” really loudly. I looked around crazy-fashion to see who was yelling it, because the last thing I wanted was to get dry humped for yelling “Occupy” wicked loudly next to a beater cop. Get that positional asphyxiation going.
You gotta look wildly around right after you yell, that’s the ticket. Everything important I learned about street occupations I learned from spitballs in junior high. I saw an expensively and conservatively dressed black man look comfortably at the beating, then ignore the call to “Occupy” and casually stick his earphones in place. Just like everyone else. What are the chances that’s not gonna piss me off at this point?
Where were the other citizens yelling “Occupy”? Where were the citizens getting together and remonstrating? If you can’t organize a demonstration, why not throw together a quick remonstration? How ’bout a peep, the thing I heard not so much as one of? Heard not so much as one of, that I did not, Yoda my man. Working on form here, because content, a Paul here, an apostle there, isn’t going to do it for us.
Form. We’re not sticking little clouds and Apostle Pauls and sheep onto the felt board like this is Sunday School. We’re torching the felt. If a job’s worth doing. We’re shoving the Pauls and the other empire upholders up the asshole of Jehozebub. It’s worth doing right. Especially the Pauls, the good ones, who sell us out to keep the empire working. Empire’s last chance.
So I yelled to the black man who had been so silent throughout, “why’d you yell that?” to throw off the scent, you know. Junior high, like I said. Then I followed that black man and mused aloud—loud enough to get through his ear blocks, his black blocks here in Black Bloc country—about the history of people ignoring people beating black people: a possibly related topic, you’ll at least grant me that. About comfortable people looking the other way, which is, like, a link, practically, it’s so related. About about about.
“Just stick in the earphones and pretend it didn’t happen,” I said to the guy. “Pretend you have no responsibility. I’m offering the resistance in homeopathic amounts that that victim you just ignored wasn’t able to. Get it? Hey pal, I’m talkin to you. Etc.” He kept pulling his plugs out and pushing them back in, like the problem was merely technical.
Big dirty old white guy following big clean young black guy—that’s a fracken demographic, eh? It’s a fricken brain twister, is what it is. Harassing people in the street is just one of those things white folks like to do, okay? Like canoeing and shopping at REI, motherfucker, and talking baby talk to dogs.
That and instilling that feeling you get as a reader when you don’t know if the writer’s quite safe. When you don’t know if he’s kidding, but you suspect he wants to rend you limb from limb, just for reading his work or something. Does he think he’s the Angriest Man in Holloway? You think you’re doing him a favor and he abuses you, like he’s the cop of writing. What’s his problem, and why doesn’t he have an opinion about Ron Paul like everyone else? Even Jesus who was so free-form had a policy recommendation, like the one about not putting new wine in old skins.
It’s like…what’s it like, that feeling? I know: it’s like the way murder’s followed by that awkward silence. You with me? Have you ever felt that? That edge you get in the street that isn’t irony? Crazy talk, they say. Like they’ve been casually murdering you for years and you do it back one day and there’s this body lying there, its crisp blue uniform turning to black paramilitary as it melts, like Dorothy chucking water on the witch. Poetry.
That awkward silence, my youngest son says, is like how you walk into a bar and suddenly the accordion stops and everyone’s looking at you.
“The accordion stops,” says Liam. “That kind of moment.”
And hey, you know what else? Here’s this Funny Paradoxical Thing about the TTC: as with the police, a good chunk of the people who work at the TTC are suburbanites who drive to work, so if you take public transportation you support needless car travel in the city, which is killing outright over twenty cyclists a year in this city alone, not to mention how many pedestrians are killed. Put that in your virtue pipe and smoke it. In your peep, as the French say.
But bad knee or no I guess I’m going to have to suck it up and cycle more. If I’m killed on my bike in this city because of this, I hereby curse the TTC and everyone who works for it who has stood by while people are being beaten. I pray that their blood will run red in the sewers. Though I am killed, I will not lift my hand against them. But curse them—that I do. Curse to take effect at midnight following the moment of my death, except on Sundays and official holidays. You never know.
* * *
Saw Taylor last night, whose face was very visible at assemblies in the main Occupy camp. Always good to see these folks topside, ’cause you never know when they’re going to get pulled under. As chance would have it, we were right there at Spadina Station on the site of the beating when I saw her. She tells me that half a dozen Occupy tents have crept back near Osgoode Station. I’ll check it out.
David Ker Thomson has been occupying and Occupying city streets since he was sixteen. “Occupy Spadina” is the sixth in the Occupy series and cross-lists as the second in the basic murder-for-dummies series. Thomson is a fitfully enthusiastic correspondent. dave dot thomson at utoronto dot ca