Ive been hit by a blaze of work over the past two weeks. It always happens this way; I make the mistake of thinking Ill be able to relax a little and then !WHAM! A co-worker gets in car accident on her first day of her new job and then all of a sudden Im the backfill guy, and was meant to be the back-fill guy all along, even though nobody thought to tell me and Ive never done her job before. Shes in a lot of pain so I shouldnt complain too much, it would be much worse to be in her shoes, trying to do work at home, and dreaming ceaselessly about all the work she should be doing. Im being assigned Action Items left, right and centre. Funny how easily the corporate speak comes now. Except, I still cant figure out which ones the Soft Copy and which ones the Hard Copy. "Alan, send me a soft copy of your actions items by Tuesday."
Action Item #1: Figure out which one the soft copy is.
About mid-week I started getting a feeling for what I really needed to do in order to lower my blood pressure to pre-corporate levels. No, not a trip to the gym. What I was longing for was one of those aimless, lazy walks that I often chose to fill my days with back when I only worked part-time. Yeah, a good concentrated dose of people watching, and meandering through book and record shops. "I just want to get out and walk," I repeated over and over to Marianne on the way down Victoria Park: " I just want to walk around the city and think about nothing." I needed a respite.
I dropped off Marianne at the bar where she was meeting her friends and headed off. Couples and groups of friends filled the streets, all enjoying the first unequivocally spring-like day of 2004; a balmy breeze, jacket open, I walked up John Street, past the overpowering statement of suburban security in the downtown core that houses Milestones, Chapters, Silver City, and Playdium. Come downtown and pretend youre in Mississauga!
"Oh! I forgot to tell you something!" Said a female voice from behind me. I immediately identified the awkward tone of an early- stages date conversation and my interest was piqued, "I forgot to tell you that one of my room-mates is a vegetarian too!"
"Oh yeah?" said the guy she was walking beside, with what might have been the slightest tone of indifference.
"Yeah!" She continued a little too enthusiastically, "The Indian one!"
"Really? One of your roommates is Indian?"
Only two minutes into my walk and I already had a dose of the good stuff Id been looking for. Its much more difficult to overhear conversations like this in Georgetown- I blame it on the lack of pedestrian traffic. Wanting to understand the mechanism of humour that had made me laugh, I went to work mentally dissecting the brief exchange.
The girl seemed to be trying really hard to make a connection, however tenuous, with the guy using the old "Im not a comic artist, trapeze artist, gerbil, small piece of belly button lint, but I know somebody that is
" technique. I re-watched Fawlty Towers a couple of months ago and in the interview portion of the tape John Cleese talked about the comedy of misunderstanding being his favorite type to write. One person is talking about one thing and the other person thinks theyre talking about something else, and they just keep missing each other. I could see the whole evening continue like this, on a gradual ladder of escalating misunderstanding. What gave the exchange its edge was the ambiguity. Was the guy purposefully misunderstanding his companion or was he was genuinely surprised and interested to learn that she had an Indian roommate? I didnt turn around to check out whether the guy was of South Asian descent himself - the other possible interpretation percolating in my head was that shed inadvertently insulted the guy by attempting to make two stupid random associations instead of just one in. The guy knew enough to understand that simply saying "Who the fuck cares" might not have been the best approach.
I walked on, feeling sure that the night would turn up some other unexpected surprise; a crack- house escapee that I have to pull off of a 7 foot chain link fence she got stuck on trying to escape a pack of imaginary dogs (true story); a guy that says that hes on the Olympic soccer team and promises that hell give me his goal winning game shoes if I lend him 40 bucks (another true story- a scam as it turns out); Marc Bell; another guy who spends the his days on a subway grate and wants to show me what they do to guys like me back in the Peg when we refuse to give em five bucks; you know, all that fun city stuff.
I ended up following someone who looked suspiciously like a S.W.A.T. Officer, complete with in jackboots and fatigues, into the Silver Snail. There appeared to have been a significant reshuffling of the stores priorities, with the whole left hand side that was once been full of comics now packed floor to- ceiling with action figures. For a moment, I considered that perhaps they had stopped stocking comic books altogether, (the thought of which didnt really disturb me as much as it perhaps should). After turning the corner I saw that there was still an aisle left of comic racks but I couldnt spot any of the books Id been looking for, although, they did at least had some recent copies of The Comic Journal. Most of the suburban comic book shops Ive been frequenting since I moved out of the city just look at me like Im crazy when I ask them if they have the Comic Journal in stock. This is how the conversation usually goes:
Person behind the counter: Do you mean Previews?
Me: No, I mean the Comics Journal.
Behind the counter: Never heard of it. Are you sure thats the right title? What did you call it again?
Me: The Comics Journal
Its a magazine of comic criticism?
Behind the counter: blank look.
My standards for comic shops are low to begin with. Fine, dont carry the Journal if you dont want, I can understand that the demand may be low. But, please, suburban comic shop owners, at least be informed enough to be able to proclaim your hatred of its snobby exclusionism! Youre letting me down here!
The Snail was claustrophobically packed so I followed the S.W.A.T. Officer out to the front door. Two action figures swung in his hand just under his gun belt. The Toronto S.W.A.T. Unit always gets their men!
I proceeded to wander along Queen, Canadian Music Week in full swing. Stopped into Rotate This, couldnt find any records that I wanted so I picked up two tickets for my current musical obsession, The Decemberists who are playing the Horseshoe March 29th.. Wandered up Bathurst, passed the good old Funeral Home on Bathurst. A funeral had just ended, and crowds of mourners in black milled about on the sidewalk, near to the Balloon King thats attached to it. Just north of Dundas I noticed a new MacDonalds had been erected and that the old parking lot behind the hospital now had a large pillared sales office promoting a new development of luxury town homes sitting on it. This was on the same spot where I had been accustomed to seeing small encampments of homeless people. Good, new luxury apartments with huge windows for me to stare enviously into their impeccably designed interiors. How do I get me a place like that? And dont tell me by working. Part of me think its all artifice, these places dont exist at all; theyre all just sales offices designed to create within us the desire and longing for that perfect imaginary urban lifestyle. You know the kind of lifestyle; the open concept, custom-made coffee table, strung halogen lighting, type lifestyle. Oh, Wait, I apologize, it was Designing Guys that created that desire in me.
A little more strolling and I was on College Street. In a chic College Street Bistro a gentleman with a blonde Mohawk waited tables as I peered in to club windows trying to find somewhere to stop to get a beer and a bite to eat. All of the clubs were almost empty. Had College West Street ceased to be the coolest neighborhood in the world? I looked at my watch and realized that it was still only 7 pm, still early by my old-me standards.
Next stop, Dragon Lady Comics, one of the better shops in town for back issues and paper ephemera. While flipping through comics and deciding what I was going a pick up, a father with baseball hat and a short grey ponytail entered the store with his 5-year-old son:
"Oh great" said the five-year-old to his father: " A comic shop! Now youre never going to want to leave!"
Something very strange is afoot in the world.
I ended up picking up the new issue of Black Hole, Lost World by Tezuka and Comic Art magazine, with an In the Studio feature on Art Spiegelman. For comics talk and pure breadth of comic knowledge, Spiegelman is hard to beat. His appraisal of his New Yorker work had an unexpected air of humility: "There were a few high points, but theres a lot of stuff in there where I was just being a working stiff, doing the gig."
Before I am able to come to grips with a new issue of Black Hole, I often have to reread the previous issues. Im always kind of hoping that one of the new issues will be the one to put it all in focus for me, but this penultimate installment wasnt the one to do it. I turned to the TCJ conversation on Black Hole ; for some elucidation but didnt really find any. Over all this it was one of my least favorite issues in the run, especially following issues 8-10 which I thought were truly powerful. It may come as heresy, especially considering gushing comments on the thread, but I even thought the art looked a little
rushed (?) in comparison to earlier issues. Im specifically talking about the scenes of Eliza sitting in the desert. Compare those images to any of the drawings of her in the druggie den, or when she met up with Keith in the supermarket; the newer drawings seem somewhat awkward, lacking that grace that Burns seemed capable of bringing to every image of Eliza.
As for Lost World, I had mistakenly thought that it was a later Tezuka work, and picked it up because Ive want to read more, but have been getting Astro Boy overload. I realized within a few pages, that Lost World was actually juvenilia and not particularly coherent, at least for the first few chapters. In retrospect I wished Id spent my money on Buddha instead- I havent read enough of Tezukas work to be a completist yet, and at a first pass thats who it should have been buying Lost World. But I should probably just shut up until Ive finished reading the thing. I should probably just shut up period.
My faith in the old world order was restored by a second father and son duo I overheard in the store:
"Dad?" said the son tentatively. I estimated that he was around 12 years old, and was holding the comic book open so his dad could see, "Do you it would be alright for me to get this one?"
"Sure! Go ahead!" the father responded amiably: "Get which ever one you want!"
"But look!" the son looked up at his father with concern as he pointed out one of the many scenes of graphic violence contained in the comic: "Dont you think that it might be too violent for me?"
" Said the father as he made a waving gesture: "You know that I dont care about that kind of thing!" Evidently the son didnt feel as comfortable with this position as his father did. Dont you know that I need boundaries, Dad? You cant just let me buy those comics! No, youve got to tell me Im not allowed to read them until Im 18, so that I can go out and buy them in secret! Youre robbing me of the shame that is every pubescent boys god-given right!
For some reason, that felt like it was for my benefit more than anyone elses, the father qualified his position: "I mean. Its not like youre going to out there and do that stuff, just because you saw somebody in a comic book do it, right?"
I went up to the cash to purchase my comics, interrupting a conversation about the innately jealous nature of Professional Wrestlers, and headed out again. Trying to think of somewhere to eat, I passed a decent looking Sushi Place and decided to try it out. I ordered Sashimi and a Stella, and when the order came it was only so-so, a bit of a let down, so I treated my self to side order of Octopus as well. The Octopus wasnt so hot either; Im used to chewy but this was impossibly, never- endingly chewy. Plus, it had been prepared in slices that were too big put in my mouth all at once, and I wasnt able to tear it in half with my teeth because its too rubbery and instead I just stick it in my mouth in one piece. Not a good idea- its takes me good ten minutes to chew one piece. I finish my beer, pay up and head back (now slightly drunk) down towards Queen Street to meet up with Marianne.
In the spirit of reverie, I decided to take a route that wound through my old haunt in Kensington, past the 120 year old house that we rented for a year or so, until the landlord below us had a paranoid freak- out and started banging on our apartment door at 2 am, and screaming at the tops of his longs: "The toilet is running! The toilet is running!" and scaring the bejezuz out of Marianne (I was doing a midnight shift at the time). We decided to move to a quieter neighborhood shortly after that incident and ended up only being able to find in a basement apartment in Parkdale, which successfully cured us both of wanting to live in the big city for a while.
The top portion of the market seems to be getting slightly more fashionable now, with the restaurant I wrote this strip about replaced by a nice looking Mexican restaurant, as well as there being a new sushi restaurant and trendy looking bar. Down, down past more immaculate condos, this time the converted George Brown College Kensington Campus, past gangs of supermarket workers in white jackets piling up empty produce boxes, past Happy Seven, Dragon City, The Vietnamese vegetarian restaurant on the second door I used to frequent with my buddy Roark.
When I arrived to Queen, I start counting the disappearing landmarks of my youth. What had once been the unofficial OCA pub since the late 70s, The Beverly, was for Sale. The Bamboo was now called The Ultra Lounge and featuring an alleyway guarded by two security guards with duffle coats and headsets. The alleyway lead to a set of imposing, yet very stylish, doors.
I had arranged to meet my wife at one of two bars. Both had their doorways guarded by very curious gentlemen who greeted me and wanted to ask me lots of questions. The doorman at the first pub asked me, "Are you by yourself? Or are you just meeting friends?"
I thought about this for a second.
"I am meeting friends," was the reply I decided on.
I instantly regretted my decision. I shouldve told him that I was meeting my wife, then he wouldve probably treated me with more respect. Then he wouldve known that I wasnt some young punk trying to sneak in twenty friends one by one so that we could all buy each other rounds of tequila, light up some stogies, and then spew vomit over the already over-capacity patrons. "Theres no need to worry about me!" I shouldve said: "No sir! Im not here to cause no trouble! Im a Married Man!"
Anyway, I didnt find Marianne so I moved on to the second place that we had agreed to meet. Another curious gentleman stopped me at the entrance. But I had the correct response at the ready this time: "How many of people did you want to bring in?" he asked.
Clever, I thought, hes rephrased the question slightly to try to throw me off my game.
"Im just looking for my wife." I said.
It came out sounding more serious than I intended. I realized that it was the same tone of voice that I probably wouldve used if I knew that my wife was inside the pub having drinks with some asshole that I suspected she was having and affair with. It was the tone I would have used if I were intending to barge into the Pub, hunt them both down, and then kill them and then kill myself. That wasnt how Id meant it to come across. I realized that what I really shouldve said was: "Im looking for my wife, to whom I am happily married and secure in the knowledge that she is not having an affair."
Okay" the guy moved aside to let me in. He yelled one last comment as I started searching the packed bar:
"I hope you find her!"