People Soup

Posted: July 21, 2011 in Life, living
Tags: , , , , , ,

People here are fascinating.  And not in a “gee, what wonderfully intellectual stimulation” sense.   I mean behaviours are just so far outside of what I consider “the norm” that time chases its own tail trying to keep up.

Toronto is defined from the mix of its people who make their way here from all parts of the world.  Hindus, Moslems and Jews from various continents, Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian, lots of Filipinos, Ukrainians, Russians and Italians all set up little communities here.  So when unusual behaviour is observed, there’s a strong possibility it can be attributed to the norms of another country.  Maybe.

Back in the small town in which I was raised, when people waited for buses, we were always careful to line up – just like they do at elementary school.  That behaviour was bred into us, and by God anyone who misbehaved received the harshest Canadian punishment possible.  They got the glare of their life.

Here in Toronto,  some of us line up at the bus stops.  And usually people – anxious to follow the crowd – will continue to line up, right up until the bus arrives.  But as soon as the bus doors open, the line breaks out into a mass of chaotic elbows and feet, all desperately dancing around each other in pursuit of a spot on the bus where they can sit down.  Some of the shorter people will barge right in front of you, with your two arms of groceries, and pretend not to see you.  Canadian glares are useless.  Their shortness is the Canadian kryptonite.

Lots of people in Toronto hold conversations with themselves.  Out loud.  I saw one large woman yelling at herself.  It was at a bus stop, late at night.

“Get over here!”

“No you get over here!”

I looked around to see who she was talking to, but there was no one there.  No one I could see anyway.

This wasn’t a cogent argument about politics.  It was one of those types of arguments that we all enjoy, I’m sure.  She was nitpicking.  At herself.

The other day I sat in a richly dark Starbucks, held in place by the arms of a big leather chair.  Total bliss.  I had my iPad and my large bottle of water, and the music was just right.

And then he came in.  He was tall, thin and had blond hair.  The guy was in his late 20’s I think.

Anyway, he plunked himself in the seat next to me, right next to the beautiful young blond girl, who was also reading.  He sat and stared at her.  Her back got rigid and it became apparent that she was re-reading the same passage over and over.   I started watching him, over the top of my iPad.

Five minutes passed.  He stared.  She didn’t turn the next page.   Then I heard him talking, a sing-song string of syllables.  They made no sense.  She didn’t look at him.  He continued talking for a while, conversationally.    The minutes passed, slowly.

Finally he got up and moved past me to get to the door.  The stench hit me, and I felt my eyes starting to water.

The girl looked over at me and smiled, shaking her head.  I nodded and turned back to my iPad.

Sort of.  I could still hear him talking, as he paced back and forth outside the café door.

Dear old dad wouldn’t have known what to make of all this.  He probably would have called the guy’s sexuality into question.

The love of money wasn’t the root of all evil, as far as he was concerned.  It was homosexuality.  And he was there to set everyone straight on that.

So to speak.

Life in Toronto is often like this.  Different scenes, different odd behaviours, every day.

Kind of like an old commercial for “Bits and Bites”:  a different handful in every bite.

  1. wolfshades says:

    On re-reading this, I suppose people who don’t know me might assume I was coming out. If I am, it’s as a died-in-the-wool, woman-loving proud heterosexual.

    Every once in a while, I stop and wonder what guys see attractive in other guys, and frankly…I’m at a loss. It’s like dividing by zero.

    Which is what my gay friends have said of us heteros – “woman as sexually attractive people? I don’t get it” is how they might put it.

    Anyway, the blog wasn’t (supposed to be) about sexuality. It was (supposed to be) about people and their weird ways.

    Makes me wonder how some of the people I consider weird look at my behaviour. Am I weird and wrong to them?



    • reneedavies says:

      Hahaha! I enjoyed reading this because I relate on a lot of levels. I lived in Calgary, Ottawa and I try to visit Toronto yearly. And I agree, there’s an awful lot of weirdness there due to the fact that there’s an awful lot of diversity. I once made the mistake of offering a few dollar bills to a man digging in a garbage can. He literally gave me the evil eye and walked away. He didn’t have much, but he must have been trying to hold on to a little sense of pride.


      • wolfshades says:

        Oh man. Had to laugh at your story. I’ve often had to do a double-take to ensure a primary analysis of someone as a street person was correct. I’d have made the same mistake as you. I sometimes even see well-dressed and groomed older guys shuffling through the garbage. And not always because they’re after newspapers either. Weird weird weird.

        So now there are social two danger points, at least in Toronto:
        1) Never give money to someone sifting through garbage – they might not be homeless.
        2) Never ask a woman how far along she is in her pregnancy.


  2. westy99 says:

    Stop making me think so early in the A.M..

    The weirdness is the same in a Latin American city, except more singing.


  3. I’m suffering a similar kind of culture shock. I’ve always loved People Watching, but also always lived in a small village. There was only one black family until around 15 years ago, and that was our ethnic diversity. I’m pretty sure some of the older people still point at passing planes.

    For the last year I’ve lived in a town a few miles away – right in the centre of the town. I hear more sirens and see more blue lights in a day here than I think I saw in my 33 years in that village.

    And of course there are Weirdos. Loads. Some you see once and then never again, and some are like the local landmarks. There’s a hermaphrodite that looks like a Weeble. There’s a tramp with his bicycle loaded up with carrier bags… who always has on an immaculate pair of tights to go with his *short* shorts.

    Come to think of it, none of the Weirdos are the ethnic people here! Maybe they’re the people who moved out of my village? Maybe I’m another one of them?


    • wolfshades says:

      I wonder about those sirens and blue lights: we see an awful lot of them here too (our emergency lights are red), and they’re usually in the form of fire trucks and ambulances. There aren’t that many police sirens, relative to the rest. Ergo, more medical emergencies. I have a sense we’ll be seeing many more as time goes by, because of the burgeoning elderly population. I’ve recently moved too – about a mile down the road from where I once lived. At the previous place I had wear ear plugs at night if I wanted to get any sleep: otherwise the sirens would have kept me awake. Fortunately, I’m not on a major intersection now, and my apartment doesn’t face the street. It’s the first time in seven years that I haven’t had to wear ear plugs. Bliss.


  4. StarkRadio says:

    Hi Wolf. Every year I do some work in the Downtown Eastside here for a festival called Heart of the City. I used to live near there, and almost moved to Chinatown this spring, but found a sweeter spot on the river further away. It’s a challenging thing, and a complex problem, of the homeless and the mentally ill/challenged, the drug use and abuse and self-medication, the institutionalized poverty, the lack of resources…… For a long time I lived in the West End, as it was transitioning from a family and senior-oriented downtown peninsula full of old houses and old apartment buildings to a trendy, very expensive fancy-pants party hood. The noise was unbelievable at the end. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was most struck by the contrast between the rich and the poor to be honest. Expensively dressed executives traveling in well-shod packs, winding their way through the muttering, shuffling, tortured homeless men. And then crack appeared and it got really bad. Anyway every year I do this festival that celebrates the arts, artists, and residents of the downtown eastside. All of it is crewed by locals. It can be very…. intense. And humbling. And I always finish feeling grateful, and wondering, how did it NOT happen to me, it’s a fine line as we are in the end not separate at all, but we choose to be because it’s less painful than doing something.

    Just my two cents worth.

    I love your writing.


    • wolfshades says:

      Thanks for your two cents! I enjoyed reading it, particularly as it brought back a memory of an earlier job I had, which entailed interviewing older people who had lost their jobs as a result of the economy – kind of like where much of the U.S. is now. It was a government agency that provided training dollars to eligible people. My job was to screen them and accept or reject them into/from the program. It was tough because, despite the clear eligibility requirements almost every one wanted to relate his or her story to me. Even the ones who qualified insisted on letting me know how they got to be where they were. Since most were older, they didn’t like having to take advantage of a program their tax dollars paid for.

      At the end of the day, I was like you – wondering how it was I was lucky. None of these people did anything wrong. They did everything right, and they had great work ethics and mortgages. Still, they found themselves suddenly locked out of their workplaces with no back pay and often without pensions to draw from. It was not their fault.

      There but for the grace of God, go I. That became somewhat of a mantra.


  5. Wonderful. Wonderful. And “woman-loving” huh? Niiiiiiiiccccee.


  6. jennygoth says:

    weirdos are everywhere especially when you try to avoid there gaze and if you do then thats it they pester you for ever lol xxjen


    • wolfshades says:

      It makes for a cold city here in Toronto, that’s for sure. One of the things I like about small towns is that the number of people like this are much less, and so people feel more comfortable saying “hi” to each other in the street. Here, if someone says “hi” the first thing you do is make sure your wallet is safe.


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