[Photo used with kind permission of Karma Roma ]
I love this city, but I needed some distance, so I asked my friend Michael if I could come see him in Toronto. We decided the theme of our weekend would be sad and romantic.
Michael’s an artist who’s lived in a queer punkhouse called Gloryhole for the last ten years. His part of Toronto is up and coming, which is really just code for getting the undesirables to pack up and go. A postcode conscious neighbour even reported Gloryhole to the city authority because the area was zoned for families and them queers didn’t look like no family. But two of the queers were married and two of the queers were siblings, so as far as Toronto council was concerned Gloryhole was the fucking Brady Bunch. The punks got to stay, but made a small concession to heteronormative values by changing the name of their wifi network. You can see the CN tower from Michael’s bedroom window.
Michael makes comics and zines and he screenprints and plasters beautiful decrepitude on walls. The dividends of this labour are partly economic, partly spiritual, so – until a few weeks ago – he also worked in a café in his up and coming hood, where his artwork adorned every inch of the jacks, and where he curated people, sketched an environment, inked a community, drew coffee. But the landlord hiked the rent something savage. The café closed. Michael lost his job.
We went for a walk and stopped outside the shut up shop, peering in at the warm wooden floors and the creeping cold of a new emptiness. A mirror still hung on the back wall and it framed a male human and a female human with their foreheads pressed up against the window pane. The male human said, “That’s where the counter was.” The female human hummed a sad “oh,” not because she cares about counters, but because she cares about the male human. “I would’ve liked you to see it. It was cool, when people came to town they could come hang out with me at work and I could give them free stuff.”
We turned around to face the street. “There used to be a bench here,” Michael said. We sat on the windowsill and talked about the parts of our hearts that have disappeared and are disappearing. “Fuck man,” Michael said, “I love this city; it’s like, why doesn’t this city love me?”
He bought me a drink in a bar that serves all night curry. He knew everybody. “I miss you,” the latest head through the door would say, “I think of you every time I get coffee.” He’d introduce me – “This is my friend Emer” – and they’d smile so generously, because any friend of Michael’s.
Back at Gloryhole we watched a Fellini film and snuggled and turned our lips purple with wine. I’d never seen Nights of Cabiria before; Michael chose it for its sad and romantic qualities especial. And shit, that was some sad romance. Cabiria is an unhappy hooker with a heart of gold living on the outskirts of Rome and she gets hypnotized over and over – by God, by men, by love, by trust, by the possibility of a miracle – hypnotized into states of vulnerability. And they try to kick her out of life, to make her pack up and throw herself over a cliff, so undesirable do they deem her, but she finds the beauty, she keeps finding the beauty, and that’s what lets them keep hypnotizing her. Cabiria loves that city; why doesn’t the city love her back?
On Sunday I did a few hours on a journal article and Michael did a few hours on a zine before we resumed the disappeared and disappearing love tour. He took me by Honest Ed’s, Toronto’s famously weird discount store, all flashing neon signs, pointless bargains, and cheesy slogans. “Only the Floors Are Crooked!” “Honest Ed Wears Baggy Pants – His Prices Show de-Creases!” The lights are off now, because Honest Ed’s closed on December 31st; it was sold along with the whole adjoining block.
We walked down the ghost street, the terraces either side enclosed in mesh fencing to keep undesirables at bay. Michael used to work at that comic shop. This used to be the best video store. Old red-brick buildings, marked for death, their emergency EXIT signs still glowing. If there’s any soul left in there, it’s time to get out.
In the middle of the row, behind the mesh, stood a laminated illustration of the condos that are going to replace it all. And on the pavement just below the picture, just outside the mesh, someone has carefully painted the question, deliberately posed it, “How Can People Be So Cruel?”
Because we let ourselves be hypnotized; because we’re suckers for a squirt of hope; because we’re not going to kill ourselves; because we keep looking for the beauty; because we keep finding the beauty; because we keep losing the beauty; because there’s beauty in losing if you know where to find it.