Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Canada Day Choices

Tonight I stood at the window of my hotel room and watched pedestrians rushing by on the streets below. Most of them were wearing flip flops, what we used to call "thongs" until that name was appropriated to denote skimpy underwear. Today, Canada Day, is the second day of a heat wave.

Three Chinese girls wearing blue tee shirts stamped VOLUNTEER crossed in the crosswalk. Three girls: two sets of legs. One of the girls was piggy-backing one of the others. She was the same size as the one she was carrying. Sore feet? Lost shoes? An injury? The three made their way quickly along the sidewalk with the crowds, and out of sight.

A bleached blond with sunglasses pushed up in her hair was wearing a black teddy. At least I think that is what the item of clothing is called, or maybe "hot pants": a one-piece with short shorts on the bottom and a strapless tube on top. There was a bit of hot pink trim across the bosom. Hot Pants piled into the crowd waiting for the walk signal at the corner and knelt down on the hot sidewalk to pet a tiny dog. The male dog owner gripped the leash and stared at Hot Pants, not in a friendly way. The light changed, and she tripped across the street and caught up to a clean cut fellow pushing a stroller. Were they together?

An aboriginal family passed below, going the opposite way to the the rest of the crowd. A young woman pushing a stroller and a young man, both seriously overweight, and some kids aged seven or eight or nine, each with a red maple leaf stamped on their cheeks. The woman pushing the stroller was texting on her phone as they crossed the street.

That was a little while ago. Now the rolling booms of a violent thunder storm dominate the soundscape. But it is not thunder; it is the sound of Canada Day fireworks. I look out my windows but I cannot see the light display. There are too many tall buildings and my windows face the wrong way. The sidewalk crowds have thinned out. Everyone rushing by earlier has now made it to their vantage point to watch the fireworks.

I have stayed in my hotel room, choosing not to watch. It happens only once a year, and I happen to be visiting this city on the day of the celebrations, but I have chosen not to go. My hotel room is cool and peaceful. Outside, it is muggy and the crowds I watched from the window were shoving and rushing. My feet already are blistered from a day of pounding the pavement in flimsy sandals. I walked with my daughter through Chinatown and along many gritty blocks.

I stood outside her apartment building beside a Chinese grocer, waiting for her to come down. I smelled the dried fish, all different kinds with their heads still on and their eyes gouged out, and the fish smell mingled with the smell of dried seaweed, and jasmine and lychee and a bin of something shaped like chocolate covered almonds, but red, like ovaries. The stink of the dried fish mixed with the smell of exhaust and urine and poverty. The sidewalk in that part of town was covered with dried gum, wet globs of spit, and cigarette butts. Although I have spent many hours as a young person exploring the downtown east side, my middle aged self returning now perceives no romance, only sadness and filth.

We walked out of Chinatown past upscale condos and trendy chain restaurants. "My friends and me living in that building, we are the urban renewal in action," my daughter said. "There is a fresh coat of paint in the hallway. I am renovating my bachelor suite."

We had iced coffee and shared a clubhouse sandwich and broccoli salad. We took transit here and there. We talked about life choices. How do people end up following this path or that path or another? So many choices. What was the turning point that took me into one career and then zigzagging into another, and when does taking a job mean that you are selling out your dreams or your values? How far do you have to go down a path to reach a point where you can't retrace your steps, and is that less risky than standing still, not able to choose? When you're living in poverty, do you still have choices, or is poverty a choice that snuffs out other choices? How far can an artist stretch for a buck, before the buck and not the idea defines the art? But without the bucks, there's no art either.

Choices. Better to have many than few, we decided.


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