Tuesday, April 25, 2017

My Eight Year-Old Neighbour Taught Me A Lesson In Civic Engagement - AND YOU'LL NEVER GUESS WHAT HAPPENED NEXT

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            A Tuesday morning, and I'm sitting on a bench at my local park, watching the kids play on the swings, and wondering at what age does it all go wrong. Flashing back to my own childhood; an indifferent grip on the monkey bars; spinning on the merry-go-round to the point of nausea; suggesting to the boys that we play mortician instead of doctor. The idea of play would only take hold in my life as a teenager and adult, as a means to control and suppress a powerful imagination. The Tuesday morning is splendid and the sky is blue and cloudless. I sigh and wipe away a maudlin tear.
            She stands beside me, arms akimbo, frowning.
            "Look at that," she says, pointing her chin toward playground apparatus. "That slide is not up to code."
            I look around to see who she is talking to, and realize it's me.
            "Whose your child?" she asks.
            "I don't have any kids."
            "Why are you watching us play, then?"
            I suddenly feel very conspicuous and guilty for no reason. I response the best I can. "The last time I checked this is a free country. And who says I'm watching you? Don't be so precious."
            "Suit yourself."
            She squints and folds her arms.  "Look at that slide. Do you think that incline is 30 degrees? I'd say it's more like 40 degrees. And what about the slide exit edges? They're rusted. I'm writing a letter to my councillor. This is not safe."
            She is a child of around eight years of age. She has brown hair and is wearing a jacket that is emblazoned with the words L'il Punk on the back. She has pierced ears and her diamond studs flash in the sun. She takes a sip of Global Villager Kombucha from a glass jar.
            I fold my arms as well. "Have you been on the slide?"
            She snorts. "Are you kidding? I wouldn't be caught dead on that contraption. It's a public structure, maintained by the city. Or correction -- I may be caught dead on that structure -- if I slid down it."
            I am growing tired of this killjoy. "Go play with the others now."
            "You say 'the others' like they're aliens."
            "I did not."
            "Yes, you did." She wags a finger at me. "Do you have a problem with me reporting this violation of code to the authorities?"
            "I don't care."
            "Well, maybe you should," she admonishes, "it's people like you who allow our public property to fall into disrepair."
            "I thought you wouldn't be caught dead on the slide?"
            "Well...I..." her voice trails off and she looks over at the swing set. I feel a little bad about questioning her motives. I hope she won't cry. The kid clearly wants to engage me in a substantive conversation, but I want none of it because it's interfering with my brooding. Then she spins around, red-faced.
            "'I'll go back on the swings now. But I'm not happy about it. This doesn't hold a candle to Universal Studios. Something needs to be done about the state of the world"
            She trudges over to the recycling receptacle and tosses in the kombucha beverage. She smooths her long hair into a ponytail and heads over to the swings.
            This kid needs some serious cheering up, I think. She's too young to be jaded.
I make my way over to the swings and take a seat beside her.
            "Is it okay with you if I play on the swings for a bit?"
            "I don't care. It's a free country," she says.
            We swing, the squeals of delight from other children filling our silence.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Why Is Everybody So Glum?



            My ninety-seven-year-old friend seemed agitated. Fists pounding on the armrest of her wheelchair, Loretta would not hear otherwise.
            "I'm telling you, Donald Trump is the President of the United States!"
            Did the nursing home hop her up on more goofballs? I have heard that it is better to go along with an elderly person's delusions than to point out reality. If she would not listen to reason, then I would have to placate her.
            "Okay, Loretta. You're right and I am wrong. Donald Trump is President of the United States."
            "Don't patronize me you little shit. Can you ask the volunteer agency to send me another friendly visitor?  No offense, but you can be a dimwit."
            I didn't take her insult personally. She was clearly lashing out.
            "Yes, I'll ask. In the meantime I'll see you in a few days. By the way, can you lend me $20?
            Her foot made hard contact with my shin. "Get out."
            I have been volunteering at the West End Nursing Home and Spa for a few months, hoping to gain some insider intel into what my future might resemble. It didn't differ too much from my present: board games, television, soft food, no family dropping by. The residents of the home appeared particularly grumpy the last several weeks though, sighing and angry outbursts ramped up from the norm. I found their behaviours odd, especially since the constant stream of CNN on the televisions in the common rooms had ceased. It was as if the residents had cut themselves off from keeping abreast. Their media consumption was replaced by bizarre ramblings about the United States refusing to admit immigrants and travellers from certain predominantly Muslim countries. Disconcerting, sure, but the aging brain can be like the contents in a raffle drum; memories, thoughts and feelings scrambling around until a random item is selected and fixated on.
            My Uber driver also had a bee in his bonnet that day. He craned his neck to address me.
            "The whole world has gone insane."
            "Huh?"
            "Trump is a sociopath."
            I played along, like our conversation was an improv game. "Yes, and."
            "Yes, and? He's going to take us all down with him."
            "Yes, and."
            "Yes, and? He's got the keys to the White House and a nuclear arsenal."
            "Yes, and."
            Is that all you can say? Yes, and? What the hell is wrong with you?"
            I was none too keen on the way he addressed me. We were driving in Toronto, not New York City for goodness sake.
            "Sir, I would like to disembark at this intersection."
            "Get out."
            Even the folks at the laundry mat were ill-tempered. When I politely asked a young woman to remove her clean wet clothes from a washer that I wanted to use, she snarled at me.
            "Sure, whatever you want, whitey."
            I let a giggle escape. I may be white, but so was she. I wanted to say to her, "why so crabby, cakes?", but that may have been an invitation to get knifed, so I kept my yap shut. I smiled broadly, which she didn't like.
            My friend behind the counter grimaced at an open newspaper. When I asked him to make change for my $20, he shrugged his shoulders.
            "I've worked here for 25 years, and for what? To be held in suspicion by people like Trump. Sure, miss. Here's your change."
            He hastily folded up the paper, tossed the loonies and quarters on the counter, and looked away, his eyes glistening.
            I couldn't figure out why everyone was talking about Donald Trump, a reality TV performer and American businessman. It was as if everyone I met was personally affected by his existence, as if he held some malevolent power over society. And the notion that he was President of the United States was particularly absurd. The President of the United States is a public servant, a selfless citizen who works on behalf of the people of America.  Why were my friends, acquaintances, and fellow citizens in Toronto believing that Donald Trump was President? By all accounts, he is the antithesis of a public servant. He is a businessman, and a government cannot be run solely as a business. It is much more than that. It is the embodiment of common values and aspirations, a collective that cares for all individuals. By definition, Donald Trump could never actually be president of that great, wacky democracy. He could play-act the role, but never truly be president because of his overwhelming self-interest.
            I went home with my clean clothes, switched on the TV, and curled up with a bowl of lentil soup and my Looney Tunes collection. A weird day is nothing Bugs Bunny can't fix ... I keep telling myself.