Monday, March 28, 2011

The Hood

     When I step outside my door I’m liable to encounter a man dressed in a red robe, wearing Nike sneakers with a backpack on his shoulders. Parkdale has one of the largest Tibetan communities outside of Dharamsala, the home in exile of the Dalai Lama. When I shop at the West Indian Emporium I have to pass by Hamza Mosque. I buy small fiery red peppers from a pleasant Chinese lady. My clothes are expertly laundered by a Korean gentleman with whom I share a passion for futbol.

     There are the panhandlers outside the LCBO. There is the knot of down and out types sitting on the curb outside the Library passing a bottle of Canadian Sherry around. The Aboriginals who used to drink in the lane that runs off Brock street seemed to have moved on, but there is often someone drinking or shooting up in the lane. It’s not unusual to see a person wandering along the street, often under clothed in winter, mumbling incoherently. There is the nightly line-up outside Our Lady of Loretto soup kitchen, a scene reminiscent of photos from the Depression.
     At night the police sirens wail outside my window. A mentally challenged man was beaten to death by a masked assailant. A man was shot to death. A woman was raped. A man was robbed. There was a home invasion. Bed bugs abound, as does another ubiquitous insect, the slum landlord. Homeless persons huddle in corners, too confused to seek shelter or because there is no shelter. Gentrification proceeds apace. Fine old gabled brownstones are renovated. Families move in, SUV’s parked on the street.

     Parkdale is beautiful the first or second week of May when the maples leaf out and the air is tinted a lime green. It is desolate as a junk yard when drunks collide in the middle of the night, sounds of breaking glass, cries of pain as flesh is sliced open, police sirens in the distance. It is innocent as fresh milk when a line of preschoolers roped together march into the Library. It is perplexing when road rage erupts at the corner of Brock and Queen on the Friday of a long weekend. It is disgraceful when the sidewalks remain unshoveled making them impassable for anyone with a disability. It is frustrating when a commercial venue flouts the noise bylaws. Most people pick up after their dogs. Some don’t.

     There are no golf courses in Parkdale. There is a terrific Library. Jane Duncan showed at Gallery 1313.  Nuit Blanche gets a little wild this far west. We get the Labour Day Parade. We get TFC fans before and after. We get our window panes rattled by the CNE Air Show. There are no high end restaurants, but Bacchus is renowned for its rotis. The parks are rather mundane and poorly kept. It has a lovely stretch of lake beach that was amputated from the neighbourhood by the Expressway. The water itself is too polluted for swimming. Some of its history survives, much of it was bulldozed.
     No one would ever describe Parkdale as idyllic. It’s not a hell hole of crack houses either. The prostitutes, who work the neighbourhood, are for the most part, discreet. For all the evidence of poverty and violence there is plenty of good will on the streets, though perhaps not so much after the bars close. You know what we don’t have, though, is a Tim Horton’s and to be honest, I’m okay with that. So far Parkdale had refused to embrace that level of blandness.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Parkdale Library


     The concept of a library goes back to at least 2250 BCE when learned men in ancient Ebla in north western Syria began to collect and organize cuneiform records. Perhaps the most famous library of antiquity was at Alexandria in Egypt. It was founded by one of the early Ptolemy's around the mid to late 3rd century BCE. Historians think the library was destroyed by Julius Caesar, in one of those collateral damage events that happen during armed conflicts. Another library called The Serapeum, or daughter library, was, burnt down intentionally in the late 4th century by Theophilus, the bishop of Alexandria, perhaps because it also served as a pagan temple and because it housed certain texts deemed to be heretical by Christian bishops in Rome.
     When I think of collateral damage and book burning I think of Nag Hammadi. It's another old library, dating back to probably the end of the 4th century CE. Nag Hammadi is a small village in Upper Egypt, near Luxor and the site of an ancient Coptic monastery.The library itself could easily fit in the trunk of a car. That is because it came housed in a clay jar of the time used probably for the transport of oil or wine. The content, 52 codices or crudely bound books, are copies of Christian writings from as early as the end of the 1st century CE. They were buried by the Coptic monks around 390 CE in defiance of an edict by the Bishop of Rome to burn everything that did not conform to that Church's version of Christianity.

    The Nag Hammadi Library contains the Gospel of Thomas, written perhaps as early as 60 CE or as late as 140 CE and which contains wisdom sayings of Jesus. Other texts include the Secret Book of John concerning redemption, The Gospel of Truth on the nature of existence and the Sophia of Jesus Christ concerning the feminine spiritual principle. As a whole these codices describe a very different view of the lifeand influence of Jesus than the one that has been passed down to us. You can find these and other subversive texts at the Parkdale Library.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Super Coin Laundry / Wash and Fold

      I live near Dufferin and Queen in one of the early loft conversions. I have lived here for almost twelve years. The mattress factory across the street is now a dance studio. The two story printing business is now a three story sound studio. Some of the homeless and other marginal people have moved on or died. Dufferin itself has been straightened in an engineering feat that was as annoying to listen to as it was fascinating to observe. If it's a nice day and I have my windows open I know when TFC scores a goal. On any kind of day with my windows closed I can hear the Indy cars when they are racing. I can hear the Queen street car trundling by if I happen to wake up in the middle of the night.To me streetcars are a comforting sound.     
     After I bought the loft and put my bed up on stilts I went shopping for an apartment sized washer. I couldn't afford a dryer and I wasn't sure I had the space. Even with all the gentrification going on on Queen West there's still the second hand appliance shops around Dovercourt, on the north side. That's not Parkdale but back then there weren't any second hand appliance stores near me. There is now right next to the Islamic brotherhood temple at Queen and Brock on the south side. So I bought my apartment sized washing machine and you know what, I am challenged by a lot of things and I am  particularly inept when it comes to folding clothes. Then the machine leaked and I had my neighbour banging on my door. Thankfully the darn thing cacked out on me.
     On the south west corner of Dufferin and Queen there's a small plaza. The hair dressing salon has been there since I moved into the neighbourhood, the ESL place as well and the Super Coin Laundry. The SCL is run by an ex ROK army guy by the name of Han who is a serious futbol fan. He has an able assistant by the name of Lee who happens to be Caucasian and has a good repertoire of dumb jokes. The first time I took my clothes over there I thought, well, I just can't afford the luxury. I picked my clothes up the next day and when I got home and unpacked the garbage bag my jaw dropped. It was like every piece of clothing had just come out of the plastic wrapper. I set the clothes down on my table and you didn't need a carpenter's square to tell you there was some was serious folding going on here. The bonus was the clothes were nice and clean.
     So a moth walks into the dentist's office and he says to the dentist, you know my wife just left me for another moth and cleaned out the bank account, I'm broke and I'm about to become homeless. The dentist says well that's terrible, but this is a dentist's office, maybe you need to see a councillor of some kind. The moths says well probably but I was just passing by and I saw your light was on.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


     Some years ago I spent a few minutes along with some others with the sculptor George Trakis. It was during the Structures for Behavior show at the AGO. Trakis had a piece in the show, one that I remember anyway. It was set up just inside the fence on Beverley Street and if I recollect correctly it was a beam about 20' long and 3' off the ground. The idea was that you looked at the thing, liked it or didn't. You walked or chose not to walk the beam and fell off or didn't. I liked it. I walked. So of course there was all this stuff going on besides just a visual appreciation.
     Well you know ART's a tricky business. Anyway what I remember about the short encounter with the artist in the Gallery cafeteria was a comment he made about his work habits. He was in New York at that time and had a rather damp, dingy studio. Periodically he would emerge and wander into a cafe and write postcards, or engage in some other mundane activity. I remember the postcard thing. This is before cell phones or cell phones that weren't the size of a case of beer. So here was an artist speaking candidly about the need for serious downtime in the creative process. His idea of downtime anyway. I've alway remembered the post card image. You know, Dear Emily, I have a cold and .  .  .  .
     It sounds a little like the Feed, doesn't it?  Well I suppose in the way that a horse drawn cart is a little like a Ferrari.
     I have a small collection of postcards from places like Nassau, Paris, Casablanca, Lima, Bolinas, Mazatlan. They are so old the ink has faded. Many of them are hardly readable, though the generic faces of the cards have weathered well. So the ink has faded and it is only the dodgy archive of my memory that allows me to know one from the other. The details are faded just as the memory has faded and though they are my small treasures, friends, family, others, they are, like coins dug out of a muddy field, surely coins, but so much less.