Monday, March 28, 2016

The Gravitational Pull of Rob Ford

I am partial to the laws of physics. One law in particular has been on my mind of late -- gravitational pull:
The size of gravitational force depends on the mass of the object being pulled by the Earth. The size of this force is the weight of the object.
A massive object will have more gravitational pull that a lighter object. Case in point, Rob Ford, his own planet, has attracted more people with his magnetism than I have. Can the law of gravitational pull be applied to the phenomenon of Rob Ford?
Yes, is my conclusion. I have experienced it.

A few years ago, the Emanuel-Howard Park United  Church (now called Roncesvalles United Church) in Toronto called upon my comedic services to host a wine and cheese fundraiser. This church is about as left-leaning, LGBTQ-positive, social justice-activist as it gets. Its tagline is "A Radically Welcoming Christian Community". Like any good Catholic, I love the United Church of Canada (no kneeling, no mass). Many of my friends are members of this church, so when I was asked to host, I was happy to help. The gig gave me an excuse to wear a gown with my Doc Martens. Besides, being in alcohol recovery, I have grown fond of church basements.

Our MPP and MP for High Park-Parkdale were in attendance that night, eager to support this church and its charitable works. The organizer told me that she had invited Mayor Rob Ford as well, but did not expect him to show up. I took that as my cue to fire off some Rob and Doug jokes, the lingua franca of the comedy scene at the time. The material went over well with the audience. I then brought up a band that played a couple of songs while getting ready for the next part of the evening's business, the auction.

From my vantage point in the wings, I could see a little commotion in the audience, a parting of the crowd making way for someone or something. I thought more beer was being delivered. That's when the event organizer rushed up to me.
"He's here!"
"Who's here?"
"Rob Ford! You've got to introduce him now!"
After the band finished its song, she prodded me back on stage. Stunned, all I could manage to say was "Folks, please welcome to the stage, Mr. Rob Ford!"

I didn't call him "His Worship". I was too shocked. He crossed the stage with a plaque in his hand and proceeded to give brief remarks of congratulations to the church and its volunteers.
That's when I felt the gravitational pull of Rob Ford, the large man with the ruddy face and blond hair, impeccably dressed in a suit. I could feel his charisma like shock waves. He had a cherub's aura, a bizarre innocence. I marvelled at him as he presented the plaque to the event organizer, one of the main stalwarts of the church. The crowd applauded, and after a few pleasantries with some congregates, the mayor took his leave with his people. 

That gesture of venturing out into lefty territory and paying tribute to people who earlier laughed at jokes made at his expense converted me into a fan of Rob Ford. The fact that he had addiction problems made me sympathetic to him. Was he a good mayor? No, but he was a savvy politician. For better or for worse, he put the city of Toronto on the map and arguably did more for tourism that the billion dollar extravaganza of the Pan Am Games. For a year or so, we all were citizens of Crazy Town, and it was exhilarating -- just ask the media, the late night talk show hosts, the comedians. Mr. Ford didn't have a pretentious bone in his body and was incapable of artifice. He was a comedian's friend, someone not afraid to laugh at himself because if you can't beat 'em, you might as well join 'em. 

When I heard he had cancer, my thought was that the media and those who hounded him would only be happy when he's dead. And now he's dead. I'm not happy. Toronto has just lost one of the most colourful characters this city has ever known. What it has gained though is its newest folk hero. Maybe that's what Mr. Ford was aiming for all along. 

Rob Ford was a force of nature. Denying his affect is like denying magnetism. He had pull.