A Letter Home

January 22, 2011

As many of our regular readers may remember, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke used to be three. While I, Cityslikr was the point man, I was ably assisted on occasion by two contributors, Urban Sophisticat and Acaphlegmic. Not a perfect union by any stretch, sometimes more 3 Mouseketeers than Musketeers, but not unworkable.

Then came the election of Rob Ford as Toronto’s mayor. My compatriots got spooked. (See the post-election analysis here.) Urban Sophisticat threw up his hands and left town. Over the holidays a postcard arrived from him. He’s on a boat somewhere in the Mediterranean, burnishing his elitist cred.

In truth, Acaphlegmic wasn’t spooked so much as… spookily ebullient. He’d met some Ford supporters shortly before the election and after their man won, he decided to infiltrate their ranks, he called it. To live amongst them. Get to know what made them tick. He went off to live in Larry’s Garage and since then we’ve heard hide nor hair from him.

That is, until the wee hours of this morning.

Under the cover of darkness, an email appeared in the inbox, purporting to be from Acaphlegmic but we could hardly recognize it as something he’d written. Gone was the usual bombastic flamboyance, the tone of condescension, the obscure wordplay. It was a note racked with doubt and a certain degree of fear. This was not from the Acaphlegmic of old.

Despite some concern I have of posting a fraudulent letter on this site, I do so reluctantly as many of you (OK, two) have asked about the whereabouts of Acaphlegmic. Part of me hopes it isn’t him. That it is just some cruel hoax. But if it is Acaphlegmic and you’re reading this out there, buddy, come home. All is forgiven. There’s always a spot on the couch for you here at the office.

I write this quickly. They are suspicious if anyone spends too much time on the computer that’s not some sort of pornography. Big breasted women pornography, it seems. Anything else and they start asking questions.

(Which is why it’s been so difficult to be in contact.)

My field work has been compromised, I fear. Not long after settling into these comfortable digs in Larry’s garage, his middle daughter, Darlene, returned to the nest, her third marriage in tatters. She came to me, inconsolable, poor thing, because her family simply didn’t understand. Truth be told, neither did I. Three marriages and not yet 34? Come, come. How be we try and put in a little effort.

Thoughts I kept to myself as you know I try not to be judgmental about such matters. The lack of criticism on my part was taken as, well, affection, I guess, leading to one thing leading to another and before you could say, maybe you should take a little relationship timeout, Darlene was spending more time in the garage than in the house, if you get my meaning.

So, full disclosure. My thoughts and views of life out here in Ford Country may be clouded through the distorted lens of romantic entanglement.

First thing to note is that, despite the huge upswing in turnout for the election last October which helped propel Rob Ford into the mayoralty, politics is not on the minds of many out here. Most of the time, it’s the last thing they want to talk about and sometimes an open hostility is exhibited at the very mention of it. For example, one night at dinner I brought up Transit City and the whole subway versus LRT imbroglio. Immediately I was set upon by Artie, Larry’s brother (Darlene’s uncle) who was in town, visiting from… somewhere north of here… starts with a B, I believe.

“What’s with the politics?” he bellowed at me. “You know who talks about politics? The Shah of Iran talks about politics. That’s who talks about politics.”

The Shah of Iran?

Of course, there was a slight uptick in the acceptability of political discourse when Don Cherry delivered his boffo performance at the mayor’s inaugural meeting. “Atta boy, Grapes! Sweater the bunch of whiners.” Sweater as a verb? What does that even mean? I was afraid to ask lest it make me even more conspicuous in their presence.

They love their Don Cherry, just like they love their mayor because they sense the two are just ‘one of them’. Aside from a similar vocabulary and a propensity toward constant sweating, I don’t see the comparison, frankly. But maybe I don’t have the right kind of eyes, as Hunter S. Thompson once framed it. “That’s right, you don’t,” Darlene informs me when I use such a turn of phrase. “You nerdy bookworm. Come here and give your honey a kiss.”

They also love their sports. Any sports, really. Hockey, the NFL, something utterly barbaric called Ultimate Fighting. Do you have any idea what that is? Men in a cage, kicking and punching each other into bloodied pulps until one renders the other unconscious! It so riles the boys up around here that they inevitably wind up trying out some of there ‘killer’ moves on each other (and me, unfortunately) until somebody, again inevitably, winds up pulling, bashing or splitting something. I’ve lost a tooth after being forcibly thrown into one of their impromptu matches and consider myself lucky at that.

Strangely, they also watch curling.

Much was made during the course of the campaign of how those supporting Rob Ford weren’t much into the ins-and-outs of policy and such. They didn’t have the time, what with them leading busy lives, holding down jobs (sometimes 2), raising kids, etc., etc. While I wouldn’t deny any of that. Everybody in this house works diligently at their respective vocations. But what I will say is that if they spent even a fraction of their spare time, reading a newspaper that wasn’t the Sun or just staying even moderately informed about the world around them as they do following sports… well… The information they have at their fingertips about penalty minutes, batting averages, 3rd down conversions. Heads full of stats! Just none of it relevant to the decisions that are made which affect their lives, down at City Hall, Queen’s Par–

… I’m back. Darlene surprised me with an unexpected appearance. I think I switched over to the girlie site before she realized what I was actually doing. Is it me or do you too find it strange that a woman you’re intimate with would be less put out by you looking at other scantily clad females than writing about politics?

Anyway…

Out here in Ford Country, they also love their cars. I guess it’s not surprising as they spend so much time with them. Driving to and from work. Driving to get groceries. Driving back to get the groceries they forgot because they didn’t make a list. I don’t understand it. What have they got against making a list? It would just save much time and effort, pain and anguish.

They drive a lot, is the long and short of it and their cars are important to them. In some cases (and I’m not naming names here but Roger is Darlene’s younger brother), their cars are like another member of the family. They name their cars. Dora. As in Dora the Explorer. Apparently some cartoon character. They wash their cars whenever an opportunity arises. They stand around with the hood open, just staring in at the engine, and poking at it every now and then.

They while away hours, sitting in their cars at the drive-through… no, excuse me… the drive-thru at Tim Hortons. Even if the place is empty inside! “Why don’t we just park and grab coffees inside?” I’ll ask only to be met with blank stares and stony silence.

Now, you should be sitting down for when you read this next part, I know about these people’s love of Tim Hortons first hand as, are you ready, I have a job at one. Yes, yes. Believe me. I’m as surprised as the next person but Larry and everybody started wondering where I was getting my money from [we’ve often wondered that ourselves here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke – ed.] so I asked Darlene if she could get me a job at the branch she works. You know, as a cover. It has been a very eye-opening experience, let me tell you, holding down what everyone around here calls a ‘real’ job.

People love their Timmies as they call it. Again, very familiar just like with their cars. A friend. A family member. “Let’s grab a nosh at Timmies,” they’ll chatter like they’re skipping through some sort of storybook tale. “I’m beat. Let’s grab a double-double at Timmies.” Such reverence and adoration you’d expect from people talking about church or an exotic location with great historical significance. It’s just coffee, I have to resist from yelling at them, the hair net scratching my scalp. A donut. You know what that is? Deep fried dough. Not the body of Christ.

Whenever I lose my patience like that, though, I try to remember that it’s me who is out of step with the majority. My ‘downtown’ views and kooky ‘elitist’ attitudes are not the mainstream. I am a stranger here. Still trying to learn their ways, their rituals, their manner of seeing the world.

It’s much harder than I initially expected, I will admit. They look so much like us but there are times when I think they might as well be a different species. I fear it’s going to be a long, hard winter out here. It already has been. At least, I have something to keep me warm through the dark night out here in Larry’s garage. The space heater works like a charm!

I must go now. There’s rumblings from the others drawing nearer. Meaning only one thing. Some sort of televised sporting conflict and they’re coming out to watch one or the other. Damn. I’d hoped for a quiet CSI night. Fingers crossed, it’s not the ultimate fighting crowd. I just don’t think I’m up for any sort of rambunctious tussle later. I have to work in the morning.

Take care. I will attempt to write more often with further observations.

Yours undercover,

 

Acaphlegmic

PS

Thumbs down on the new design. It looks like you’re writing about gardening or a love of cats.


Deputations And Disregard

January 20, 2011

Let it be a given that annual public consultations on City Hall’s proposed budget are, always have been and always will be an exercise in, if not futility, let’s call it pretense. The people talk. City councillors (at least, those with a hand in crafting the budget) pretend to listen. A show trial of democracy without all the messiness of executions afterward.

So I hesitate to suggest that the consultations currently underway for budget 2011 are any more of a façade than previous ones but some councillors and the mayor seem to be jettisoning even the pretense of pretending. After hearing overwhelmingly from deputants telling him that they’d prefer no service cuts to tax cuts, Mayor Ford claimed that, “Obviously people want a zero-percent tax increase. I’ve heard it from all over.” Someone get the mayor a Q-Tip. Clearly he has some waxy build-up.

And after a particularly fractious and protracted process in East York, Budget Chief Mike Del Grande reportedly quipped that he “heard lots of numbers but at end of the day, I’m not sure it’s reflective.” Not reflective of what, Councillor Del Grande? The opinion of a vast majority of people who took the time to come out and have their voices heard? Or just not reflective of the opinions of those you agree with?

But, to be fair to the Budget Chief, he had endured what sounded like a grueling quarter of a day or so, defending the proposed budget out in East York. Me? I chose to attend the meeting up in North York as it was much easier to get to from downtown. I’m all about getting involved in the democratic process as long as it doesn’t put me out too much.

The proceedings in the council chambers at the North York Civic Centre were more placid than those, it appears, in East York. One might even call them somnolent. Presided over by a congenial even folksy Councillor Ford, deputants came and went, almost exclusively decrying the budget’s proposed cuts to both services and taxes without raising much of a stir from the other members of the budget committee. Councillors Milczyn, Parker, Shiner, Di Giorgio and Deputy Mayor Holyday rarely interacted with anyone other than themselves, asking few questions of the deputants or providing little to no feedback. Only when those stepping forward to speak heaped praise upon the proposed budget (I counted 4 of the 40 or so deputations doing so) did any of these councillors snap to attention or show even a lick of interest.

In fact, the four hours of deputations could’ve been completed in half the time if it hadn’t been for Councillor Shelley Carroll and, to a lesser extent, Anthony Perruzza. They, along with Councillor Ford, appeared to be the only ones from the council perspective who came to actually listen and react to deputations. Carroll did much more than that. Ask questions, tweet pictures, head up into the crowd to assist deputants who were having trouble figuring out the process. It was the Shelley Show, and when she finished up in North York, she made her way over to the East York location to pitch in there.

To be honest, these deputations are in many ways as much about Carroll’s time as budget chief as they are about the 2011 budget. While the proposed document sets out Mayor Ford’s plan for Toronto, it is also a complete repudiation of the previous administration. Tax and spend. A spending problem not a revenue problem. (Dis)respect For The Taxpayers. That which made The Gravy Train run. All of it (or at least the last 4 years) under Carroll’s fiscal watch.

She is the remaining face of the Miller administration’s power group. The mayor retired voluntarily. His Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone, Speaker Sandra Bussin, protégé Adam Giambrone, likewise all gone, less voluntarily. Carroll is the last one standing. She is doing so boldly and unwaveringly.

Carroll was at her best last night when she tangled with the few speakers who heaped praise on the budget for its attacks on spending and taxes but offered little in the way of helpful suggestions about which fat to trim. This includes the Board of Trade’s Carol Wilding who categorically refused to go on the record to say which services she would recommend cutting in order for the city to achieve a budgetary balance. Distancing herself from the dirty business of fiscal belt-tightening, all she would say when asked about cuts was that it was all in the presentation she’d handed out to the councillors.

It was especially invigorating to witness Councillor Carroll verbally pick up the representative from the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses by the scruff of the neck and point that, for all his squawking about tax relief for businesses, he had failed to inform his membership and the public at large about the special program the Miller administration had established to help smaller businesses offset property tax increases. Much blubbering and backtracking ensued from Mr. CFIB and no attempted assistance from Councillor Di Giorgio could rescue him. At least, I think it was assistance Di Giorgio was offering. It was never clear exactly what he was up to on the rare occasions he opened his mouth.

Councillor Carroll is emerging as the voice of sanity at City Hall in the face of the Ford juggernaut. She has been relentless in not only defending the spirit of the Miller administration but in insisting on reasonable debate and discussion, conducted in the proper manner using established protocol. She is standing firm in front of the bulldozer Ford and his boys want to take to our municipal government.

She is being assisted certainly by the likes of Councillors Vaughan, Perks, Davis and McConnell. The difference is, the mayor’s supporters will all dismiss these as downtown, pinko, left wing, elitist kooks. That’s a smear they can’t use on Carroll. Despite her high rank in the Miller administration, she has serious big L liberal pedigree (which we don’t hold against her) and represents a suburban ward, deep up in Ford Country. She should be one of them. She’s not. This makes her a formidable foe of the mayor which we should remember and hold onto when things begin to look bleak.

And there will be times over the course of the next 4 years when things will look bleak.

fan boyishly submitted by Cityslikr


Ooops!…We Did It Again

December 2, 2010

How quickly we forget.

Just a little over a month ago we misunderestimated him as a candidate and now, a day+ officially into office, we’re misunderestimating him as our mayor. How long’s it going to take us to learn, people?

Mayor Ford (**Simpson’s Shudder**) is not an idiot. Or he is but has surrounded himself with at least one person (but very likely more) who is not an idiot. He (they) got (him) elected mayor of this city with nothing more than tribal chants. We laughed, mocked, huffed and puffed until we were blue in the face. Nothing we did, however, could stop him from winning.

Now, just a day into actually being mayor, he’s got us doing it all over again with his imperial pronouncement (with a dollop of faux-populism) that “Transit City is over, ladies and gentlemen.” We laughed. We mocked. We huffed. We puffed. We demanded to understand matters of procedure. Can a mayor actually nix something like that single-handedly? Who died and made him complete and total boss?

More to the point, is our new mayor really that big of a feckin ejit?!

And we were off, misunderestimating him again.

Over the course of the day, it slowly dribbled out that the real crux of Mayor Ford’s… sorry, just threw up in my mouth a little… early a.m. meeting with the TTC’s GM, Gary Webster, was to get some sort of report on what it would cost to cancel Transit City’s existing contracts, work, etc., and replace some of it with subways. Get back to me about 6 weeks will ya, Gare?

Just enough time to really get all us downtown elites in a lather, foaming at the mouth, yelling at the top of our lungs about the idiocy of the man and his supporters, how the Clampetts have arrived and ruined everything, oh my god, the PTA has DISBANDED!!

Also time to deliver up a little council strategy intel for Team Ford. Which councillors immediately stood firm against them (and who would be subsequently ignored regarding everything) and those that kept their heads low and traps shut (who could be badgered and bullied into falling into line.) Not in terms of deep-sixing Transit City, you understand, because that’s not going to go to council for a vote because it’s not going to happen.

What’s that you say? The mayor (if I don’t attach the proper name to it, I feel less queasy) couldn’t shut up about killing Transit City. Of course, he’s going to do it. He’s a man of his word. Guaranteed. Remember?

Nope. TTC report’s going to come back and tell the mayor (yeah, still holding) what everyone else in the city except for the willfully ignorant streetcar haters already know. The costs will be through the roof exorbitant to halt Transit City and build subways instead. It makes no economic sense. None.

And the mayor was swept to power not on a promise to kill Transit City and build subways. Yes, he said he hated streetcars and everybody he talked to wanted subways during the campaign but that was nothing more than a seat of the pants, fill in the gaping hole that kept opening whenever anyone asked about his transit plan. It was conveniently divisive and provided red meat to his supporters. It just wasn’t a real priority. Stopping the Gravy Train was.

Even the malevolently brilliant minds directing traffic at the mayor’s office will not be able to spin the millions and millions of dollars it will cost the city to change courses on Transit City into popularity gold. Instead, they will look at the numbers, throw up their hands and say that it just isn’t feasible. The Silly Socialists®™©* of the former regime handcuffed them with this white elephant. There’s nothing they can do about it now without incurring heavy costs on you, the taxpayers. So… Blame Miller for all the new streetcars. And let’s keep Stopping the Gravy Train!

The downtown elites will then be fully blamed for foisting a major transit expansion onto the inner suburbs against their will, providing them with their first ever workable form of public transit. The dividing line between Ford Country and the core will be further entrenched and the ground salted for good measure. Yet another veritable virtuoso strategic sleight of hand by Team Ford, reminding us once again that we misunderestimate them at our (and the city’s) peril.

Otherwise, if I’m wrong, it means that our new mayor and the brains behind him actually believe that they can bend reality to their will. That with Ford’s election, the Mayor of Toronto has elevated itself to an all-powerful, superhuman entity capable of bringing city council and senior levels of government to heel with a mere declaration of intent. It would mean our new mayor is, well, insane, and just two days into his reign, I am unprepared to go there that soon.

So, for the time being, I will stick to my guns and think of the Ford Administration as evil genii not bat-shit crazy. It will allow me to sleep better for a little longer.

* while the etymology of this phrase is unknown to us, we ascribe its origins to the Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy, now official Mayor Ford stenographer/courtier/jester

— deconstructingly submitted by Cityslikr