Old Friends Reacquainted

Why do these things always happen on weekends? Prepped for a couple lazy days of kicking back and doing a whole lot of nothing, maybe catching up on some reading, a movie or two; indulge in an extended wine tasting. Go time on me time.And then the phone rings. And rings. And rings.

There’s no ignoring it, ultimately. It’s not in my nature. A ringing phone must be answered regardless of the technological advances made in allowing us to avoid engaging.

Because of this weakness of fortitude, my weekend unfolded in the most unexpected manner… which, in looking at it, really should’ve been the first sentence of this post. A tweak here and there and it would be a killer opening line.

The caller ID offers no assistance. It’s a name I don’t recognize. Perhaps without the extra spicy, extra strong Bloody Caesar under my belt I would’ve let it go to voice mail. I’m feeling magnanimous, inclined to reach out and touch somebody and not in any sort of creepy way.

It’s Mrs. _________, you don’t know me but I’m the downstairs neighbour of ________. ________? Who the fuck is _________? (I only swear retrospectively, telling the story to you.) Oh, wait. You mean, Urban Sophisticat!

You remember Urban Sophisticat. Long lost colleague, hightailed it out of here not long after the day infamy, October 25th, when the city he loved lost its collective mind and voted Rob Ford to be mayor. If you’ve only just recently joined us here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, allow me to submit his last appearance for your reading pleasure.

He up and left for sunnier climes and the boating life. Our very own George Clooney living la vida loca Mediterranean style. Or so I thought. I mean, he sent a postcard claiming as much.

“Oh, no, no, no,” Mrs. _________ tells me over the phone. “He’s here. But acting very, very strange.” Strange, you say. Strange how? “I haven’t seen him for a week now. Maybe two. And there’s this smell…”

Oh, god. The Smell.

And why was his neighbour calling me anyway? He had family in town all over the place. Let them deal with his rotting corpse. Urban Sophisticat had been dead to me for months now. I’d long since buried him.

“There was a note under my door this morning,” Mrs. ________ says. “Asking me to summon Cityslikr. That’s you, right? Cityslikr?”

Summon Cityslikr? OK. This, I had to take part in.

Arriving outside his door and, yes the stench was more than a little disagreeable. But even if Urban Sophisticat had died since slipping the note under his neighbour’s door, he couldn’t be decomposing this badly, this quickly, could he? Besides, there was a hint of cumin… no, wait… cardamom in the stench. Is that what decaying flesh smells like?

I knocked at the door. It took long enough for a response that I almost left, thinking why would I expect a dead guy to answer the door anyway. Then the door opened.

I turned to see Urban Sophisticat already heading away from me, back into his place. He hadn’t said a word. By the time I walked in, he was sitting in a chair in the living room, looking not unlike Michael Corleone near the end of The Godfather II just after hearing the gunshot that killed his brother in a hit he’d ordered. And there was that smell.

“What the fuck is that stink?” I asked.

“I’m fermenting lentils.” Urban Sophisticat just stared at me and clearly wasn’t about to tell me why. The ensuing silence became a little annoying, I must admit. I chose not to pursue the lentil line of questioning and instead inquired into his whereabouts over the last 4 months or so.

“I thought you were sailing off in the Mediterranean,” I said. “What are you doing—“

He waved me off, with clearly bigger fish to fry which wouldn’t be a bad idea if it could mask the stink of lentils long past their best before date.

“I needed you to think that,” he says matter of factly as if no further explanation was necessary. It was.

“Why?”

“We needed time apart.”

Clearly there was going to be no making sense of him. I’d made a terrible mistake coming. But this was the kind of erratic behavior to expect from my other colleague, Acaphlegmic, not Urban Sophisticat.

“I probably should be going,” I told him. Before I could turn back toward the door, Urban Sophisticat got out of his chair and walked toward me as if he was walking on water or some sort of fragile surface that might break under his weight if he stepped down to forcefully. Almost gliding.

When he got close, he lifted his arms and grabbed me by both shoulders and looked deep into my eyes. I won’t lie. I start to giggle, semi-nervously.

Was he really going to take my head in his hands and kiss me? “It was you, Fredo. I know it was you,” I was fully expecting him to say. Instead, he just continued to stare at me in dire earnestness.

“We failed miserably, you and I,” I’m told finally. “We paddled hard against the tide but were washed ashore by a rogue wave of unrighteous indignation and misguided populism.”

He started to squeeze my head. Combined with the lentil stench, I was getting more than a little nauseous. I refused to show any sign of discomfort, however. That would give Urban Sophisticat the upper hand which is something I categorically could not bring myself to do. Ever.

“But in defeat,” he continued, “we must become warriors. Warriors of change. Warriors for change.”

“Whphfedleshdamyhthdsss,” I asked through painfully compressed cheeks.

“What?”

Taking control of the situation, I pushed him back away from me. “What are you talking about? And what’s with the lentils, dude?! Seriously. I’m going to pass out here.”

Urban Sophisticat returned to his chair and sat down.

“It’s time to talk electoral reform, my friend,” he informs me. “Toronto does not have a spending problem. Toronto has an electing problem. I want to be your point man on this. I want to be All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s ground zero for election and voting initiatives. Unless you grant me that, I won’t come back. This thing between us? It’ll be over.”

It’s not that I disagreed with his sentiments on the issue. Voting reform was long passed due. I had never said otherwise which made this whole display on my colleague’s part unnecessary and so over-the-top.

“Who’s stopping you?” I asked. “Write away.”

Urban Sophisticat looked hard at me, as if I were lying.

“What? Start the conversation. You have carte blanch.”

“Really?” he asked. “And can I have the title of Electoral Reformer in my posts?”

“If it makes you less nuts, I’ll call you Electoral Reformer King.”

Urban Sophisticat sat back in his chair, looking satisfied as if he’d just squeezed a major concession from me.

“But whatever it is you’re doing with those lentils, it stays here. I don’t ever want to smell that smell again.”

With that, I turned and fled the premises. My weekend ruined by the stink of rotting lentils. An aroma that will forever be associated with the notion of electoral reform. But as I think a great suffragette once said: change is never easy and it never smells quite right at the beginning.

wretchingly submitted by Cityslikr

Wilting Democracy

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have been thinking a lot lately about the state of local democracy. Well, not all of us. Urban Sophisticat seldom ponders on the subject as his preference would be for a benign dictatorship that banishes cars from cities and permits cannabis cafes on every street corner. This is not a belief conducive to thinking straight about democratic institutions.

But for those of us here not wandering around in a perpetual haze of glassy eyed, marijuana induced idealism, we have been mulling over our situation as duly appointed participants in the democratic process. Yes, it all seems alive and vibrant while in the midst of an election campaign. Caught up as we are in the proceedings, it’s hard to fathom that there are those out there more akin to Urban Sophisticat’s mindset who aren’t devouring every little morsel of news and information coming in off the campaign trail. Neither are they eagerly awaiting October 25th in order to be first in line at the polling booth to mark the requisite Xs in their appropriate ballots.

Trolling through the interwebs as is our want, we stumbled across the fact that over 60% of eligible voters did not vote in Toronto’s last municipal election. I’m sorry. You said over 60% of voters did vote in Toronto’s last municipal election, right? No, we didn’t. Over 60% of eligible voters did not vote in Toronto’s last municipal election. (Note the use of the bold, italics and underline functions for emphasis. Twice.)

Holy mackerel, that’s low. That’s low, right? Yes, it’s low. Criminally low as it would be in some places like Australia where voting is mandatory under penalty of prosecution. Keelhauling, we think they still do down there, what with their naval and shipping of convict heritage, if found guilty of voter neglect.

Yet not voting is par for the course here in Toronto. To say that we have a disengaged electorate is to dally in the shallow waters of DoYaThink!?! Creek which is a tributary of WellD’Uh River. When it comes to municipal politics, Torontonians are passionate about their lack of interest. It’s tough to fight City Hall when you’re not even sure where it is. That funny shaped thing, down by the Eaton Centre, right behind the outdoor skating rink, yeah?

From our inception, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke has chalked up voter apathy – not just in Toronto but in municipalities all across the province of Ontario – to the fact that those we elect as mayor and councilors don’t really have the power and resources to deal with the demands placed upon them. The purse and authority lie with our elected officials at the provincial and federal levels. So why waste time worrying too much about the hired help?

Turns out things might be a little more complicated than that, as much as it offends our sense of strict black and white reasoning to admit. The democratic deficit under which we are operating is a broader, deeper pit of entropy according to those who actually examine the phenomena rather than simply opine glibly about it. If Toronto isn’t alive with voter fervor, it is most definitely hopping with enthusiasts who want to change our complacent attitude toward elections.

A quick trip through the tubes and pipes of the internet reveals a bubbling cauldron of activism at work on behalf of local democracy. At a website of Kris Scheuer, city hall bureau chief for the Town Crier newspapers, there’s a concise overview of the voting (or rather non-voting) habits here in Toronto. In that post, there is a link to a blog from a fellow named David Meslin.

mez dispenser, the blog’s called and it is the work of a self-proclaimed artist and organizer who doesn’t appear to need any sleep. As the site shows, the list of his undertakings is long including City Idol where participants vied to become candidates in the 2006 municipal election. One of his latest projects is Better Ballots which is a push for electoral reform in Toronto; a drive shared by other organizations such as the Toronto Democracy Initiative.

While impossible to summarize in a single post, among other overriding concerns of such individuals and groups is the exclusionary nature of our voting system. The traditional first past the post method is a boon for incumbency that has become so entrenched that City Hall is a pale (pun intended) reflection of the diversity of Toronto. Females and visible minorities are vastly under represented while some councilors can get re-elected with just 20% of the votes cast! (I’m sorry. Did you say that there were councilors at City Hall who got elected with–Yes, I did. Such is the sad state of democracy in Toronto.)

It is a hole that we will not dig ourselves out of quickly. Aside from the usual difficulties of transforming a well fed status quo, there is the ever present problem of having to get the OK from Queen’s Park for much of the proposed electoral reform. And this is a government that was lukewarm at best toward the 2007 provincial reform referendum on proportional representation. So it’s hard to see how they would be all that permissive in allowing Toronto to have a go at it on its own.

Still, you either throw in the towel, shrug your shoulders in defeat and head off to the nearest cannabis café to watch passively as more and more of your city is handed over to those who think of it as their own personal playground or you stand up and say, there is a better way to do things. Democracy is not dead as long as there is enough of the latter kind of people. From that standpoint, I think Toronto’s doing just fine.

upbeatedly submitted by Cityslikr