Politics 101

July 19, 2010

I like to think of myself as a man not oblivious to political machinations. There is no subterfuge buried deep enough that my nose cannot uproot, truffle style. Long gone are the days when I read anywhere but between the lines.

But I am the proverbial babe in the woods in these matters compared to my acquaintance, one Jose Cuervo Manchego (not his real name, I suspect). Sitting drinking in our favourite west end watering hole, he coolly and quickly dispels any notion I might have of possessing an ‘operative’ mindset. It is both disturbing and thrilling to watch one’s self-assured perspectives so systematically dismantled.

“To think Harper staged the G20 where he did simply to kick sand in the face of Toronto is infantile in its level of petulance,” Jose sneered at me. “It attaches human emotion to someone who possesses none.”

“Yes, yes, everyone’s trying to convince us the man’s actually a warm, huggable guy in person,” Jose continues. “All kittens and lollipops but in the political realm, he’s a machine, a robot, Vulcan. Spite is something completely foreign to him.”

So if not spite, what?

I make the mistake of wondering the thought out loud and am met with nothing but an icy stare of heart-stopping derision. It cost me another round of drinks plus one of the establishment’s marvelous pulled pork sandwiches to get Manchego to stay, let alone fully explain his diabolical theory. An investment well worth it in order to travel down the river to such a heart of darkness. But it would have to wait until the sandwich arrived. Our table was overcome with a stony silence.

“Everybody knew there was going to be a riot,” Manchego restarted in between bites. “As soon as the thing got moved downtown. Expected and desired.”

Sitting listening to Jose Cuervo Manchego brought to mind that scene in Oliver Stone’s JFK where Kevin Costner’s Jim Garrison is schooled in duplicity by Donald Sutherland’s X on the park bench. Yes, the man is that mad!

“They knew there’d be a riot. They knew there’d be police overreaction. Hell, they assured it with the number of cops they put on the street and the toys they gave them to play with. They knew there’d be a huge outcry of protest afterwards. Laws manipulated. Rights stepped on. And they knew… there… would…be…pushback.”

Manchego delivered the last line pretty much as written. Like he was talking to a child. To someone who would never fully comprehend what he was pointing at. But he underestimated my growing grasp of the situation.

“Over 70% of Torontonians approved of how the police dealt with the protesters!” I yelled out, startling everyone in the bar except for Jose Cuervo Manchego. He sat back, smiling a Yoda smile and gestured to the bartender for another round.

Locate and mobilize. Showing support for police actions over the G20 weekend (and beyond) revealed a law and order sensibility that was the Conservatives’ bread and butter. Where these people are and getting them out to vote might be the key to future electoral success.

“The Conservatives are this close,” (gesturing but, in fact, I take some editorial license here because what Manchego actually said about the miniscule proximity included an Andrew Brett degree of vulgarity which I’m not sure readers of this blog are ready for), “to securing a majority government. But they’re tapped out everywhere else in the country. The major breakthrough in Quebec fizzled because they have a fundamental cluelessness about the population. So, where … are … they … going … to … find … the … extra … seats?”

Now, I was just being patronized. The Conservatives had no presence in the country’s 3 biggest cities. A surge in any of them would provide the numbers needed to finally go over the top. So Manchego seemed to be suggesting that the PM deliberately set Toronto on fire in order to find out where his supporters were and to get them excited. That was too Machiavellian even for my tastes.

“Look at that debate at City Hall afterwards,” Manchego countered. “All those councillors who stood up to applaud the police. They proudly claimed to have had no part in the protests and watched it all go down on TV. Why? Because they don’t live anywhere near the downtown core. They go there to work and that’s the extent of it.”

“They live in Rob Ford country, friend.”

Maybe it was the number of drinks we’d downed on this sunny weekend afternoon but my head was a-swirl with the implications Manchego put forward. So the summer of 2010 was to be one of recruitment for the Conservative Party of Canada in the 416 area code. Identify, locate and mobilize. All they needed was a handful of seats and discontent was indeed running high throughout the city. Discontent generated and intensified by many of the candidates running for mayor, none more so than Rob Ford.

“His campaign is nothing more than a trial run,” Jose Cuervo Manchego suggested. “Trotted out to see what sticks and what slides. And exactly where his support is most intense.”

“And if he wins even better!”

Once again, the depths of my ignorance and obliviousness were revealed by Manchego’s reaction to my statement. He dropped his head back and his jaw down, staring in astonishment up at the ceiling. Before I could be relieved over the gentleness of his scorn, he grabbed a crust from his pulled pork sandwich and flung it at me, scoring a direct hit right into my slightly open mouth and forcing me to spit it out onto the floor in full view of the bartender. We apologized after getting a rebuke from him and remained quiet for a few moments but Manchego could not contain himself.

“Nobody in official Conservative circles wants Rob Ford to be mayor, you idiot!” Manchego hissed at me nowhere near as far under his breath as he might’ve imagined. “That would be a disaster. It would set back their agenda years if not decades.”

“The man’s a moron, a buffoon. One year in office as mayor would reveal the entire neo-Conservative, anti-government ideology to be the destructive, brutal, ruinous movement that it truly is. He’d get nothing accomplished except for sinking Conservative chances of ever electing anyone to office in this city ever again.”

I began to suspect the sanity of my drinking partner, Jose Cuervo Manchego. If what he’s saying were true then Toronto progressives should consider voting for Rob Ford as mayor. Take the long view and embrace a one term Ford mayoralty as a giant step toward damaging the neo-conservative brand. Our own little George W. Bush or Sarah Palin. Take one for the team for a brighter future. Fall on the grenade to save the platoon.

But alas, that was too far through the looking glass for me. A worldview I was unprepared to embrace lest I lose my very soul. I would admire the mind of someone like Jose Cuervo Manchego but would not seek to emulate it.

A conclusion I kept to myself, not wanting to be pelted by any more sandwich detritus although, judging from the smoldering, even hateful, look I was subject to, Manchego very likely knew what I was thinking. We continued drinking in silence. The heat outside was too stifling for us to do anything else.

shakenly submitted by Acaphlegmic


Why We Love This City

April 7, 2010

Prone as I am to impulsive acts of merriment and derring-do, some of which have taken me far afield for weeks on end, I’ll be the first to say that there is a time and place for such pleasure seeking. One has to set boundaries or else it’s all play and no work. That, my friends, is the slippery slope on the road to pure hedonism, and take it from someone who has been there, done that and purchased the tank top to prove it, it is a tough, seductive slog back to the land of the dreary everyday.

So it was last night. We decided to take our editorial meeting out from the fetid confines of the office/media viewing room, pungent with the smell of non-stop sports spectating, chocolate ingesting and the agony of defeat. It was necessary to find a TV-free venue if we hoped to accomplish any semblance of work; jonesing as our colleague was with an insatiable need to cheer for someone, anyone.

We discovered just the place at the northern tip of the hot, hot west end strip of Ossington Street. The Painted Lady, it’s called. Had I known it would ultimately live up to its alluring name, I would’ve insisted on returning at another time when work wasn’t the reason we were looking for a bar.

Pure hindsight, unfortunately. It all stared innocuously enough. Ossington was quiet, what with it being the Tuesday night after a long, long weekend. The weather had returned to spring-like conditions from the blast of summer we’d received over the past few days. The Painted Lady was sparsely occupied, perfect for a work meeting. One could see, however, the appeal of it with a full crowd crammed into its fairly narrow confines. A slightly elevated stage sat at the back of the room past the long bar, underneath a ceiling decorated with deliberately gaudy baubles. Was that a picture of 70s icon, Xaviera Hollander aka The Happy Hooker peeking out from the back wall behind the drum set, slightly obscured by a heavy velvet curtain?

You want to say that The Painted Lady has a very lower, east side Manhattan feel but NYC comparisons are as futile as they are useless. It reveals a paucity of imagination on our part which I have just done by pursuing this thought out loud. So I’ll stop.

Things went swimmingly at first although it was a task to keep distracting Cityslikr from peering longingly up at the empty TV screen hung over the bar. We amassed future civic issues to follow, politicians and media personalities to praise and chastise. We even found ourselves downing delicious (if slightly sweet) pulled pork sandwiches prepared by our friendly if slightly reticent bartender who told us that this was something we could not expect when crowds filled the place.

Fair enough. But on this particular evening, all was well for the brain trust of All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.

That is, until the band arrived.

Why I didn’t insist at that very moment on paying up and heading out, I can’t honestly say. That the meeting was at an end was beyond doubt. There would be no more work talk to be talked. The bigger concern was for tomorrow (now today) and perhaps a few more days after that. I can personally attest to situations like this spiraling out of control and wanted no part of it now. My colleagues could not see (or chose not to see) the danger lurking. They were deaf to my protestations.

The band called themselves Rambunctious and were an ad hoc group of musicians featuring mainly horns and woodwinds with a drummer and accordion thrown into the mix. Only after it was too late did we learn that Rambunctious got together every Tuesday for an improv jam. And jam they did.

My best description of it was a sort of Broken Social Scene gathering playing dirty jazz. It immediately took me back to my days auditing religious courses at Loyola University in New Orleans where I frequented a down and dirty place called The Maple Leaf Bar, listening to the likes of the New Orleans Nightcrawlers. It was that good.

Which is why I had to leave. Eventually. Someone had to be the responsible one and it was quickly obvious that neither of my colleagues would be up to the task. I gathered together my meeting notes and took one for the team, calling it a night prematurely. Bidding the other two adieu (which they barely acknowledged), I ventured out into the drizzle, looking back one last time to witness as they shared a round of Jägermeister shots with the band. No, they would be of no use in the morning.

As I made my way home, I wrapped myself in the self-righteously edifying cloak of being the responsible one in the crowd. Besides, there would be other Tuesdays for me. At The Painted Lady. With Rambunctious.

longingly submitted by Acaphlegmic