Capacity crowds

I think that I am living in Toronto (or “Greater Parkdale” from my point of view), but when I consult the media I cannot be sure. I should know, I suppose, but most of the information is dubious.

Now, Los Angeles clearly does not exist, but is a creature of its own imagination. This I realized while proposing an article to an editor once, that would have been entitled, “A Pedestrian in Greater LA.” He, a former Angeleno himself, turned down the idea, either for my own safety (parts are as dangerous as Kabul or Chicago), or because he feared I might give the city’s little secret away: that despite appearances, it isn’t really there. Still, the appearances are maintained; for the unreal city is “too big to fail.”

When I lived in London, as a much younger man, I felt certain that the city existed, and that every shyre of Engelonde existed, too. Canterbury, for instance: I once walked there from Southwark, confirming map references along the way; then returning, found nothing had moved. In conversation with an old lady, polishing brass in a parish church, I learnt that the town had existed for some time, even on the night the Luftwaffe tried to erase it. She’d been there. And of course we have the evidence of Chaucer. (For Los Angeles we have only what Hollywood says.)

The blitz of 1st June, 1942, was a shocking event; as shocking, I should think, as the RAF blitz on Cologne, two nights earlier. And yet, I was told, the inhabitants were not shocked. A row of timber-frame houses had blown down. The brass-polishing lady, then a little girl in one of them, remembered that only a few of her neighbours had been killed; but many were trapped in the wood and plaster. Those who found themselves alive in the street went to work digging them out and, she said, there were no tears. “Full employment,” as an economist might say. Moreover, they had reason to be happy, for the great cathedral behind them looked undamaged. The neighbourhood was gone, true enough. But the cathedral was standing in “a ring of fire,” as St Paul’s had been in London some months before.

One gets used to these things. One learns that tears are useless. We must attend to the living, bury the dead, organize the rubble in piles for recycling. “Let the dead bury their dead.” This is a hard saying, from the Gospels. One would have to be quite a clown, to think it means do not bury your father. Rather it means follow Christ: now, not later.

In Toronto, these days, I sometimes have the vision of a vast cemetery, bodies stacked to the skies, the hearses rumbling through every street, along with busloads of corpses. “Unreal city,” as a certain poet said. I look across Humber Bay, to a new row of high-rise mausolea, built in the short time since I moved into this flat. Do you know that children are raised in these houses of death? Not many, but a few. Imagine growing up in such a place: interred from birth.

Yesterday’s news event occasioned little shock, except among witnesses. Those on the streets, along Yonge below Finch, were surprised to see the driver of a rental van, purposefully running down other pedestrians. But a few miles downtown, where I was then and in the hours just after, it was like any other news item. I didn’t know that anything unusual had happened, until I got home and looked in my email.

I might have guessed from an announcement in the subway: “Line 1 is closed north of Shepherd due to a police investigation of an accident that occurred outside the station.” (Translation: “Whatever happened, it was not our fault.”)

But vehicle plough-downs are like fender-benders, these days. They’re like bombing raids during a war, once you get used to them. They can’t hold people’s attention. We need bigger and bigger death-counts to keep ourselves amused. The media, earnestly trying to fulfil their mandate, can only hope for them.

In the evening, in pubs across the city, people were riveted to the spectacle of our Maple Leafs trying to stay alive in the playoffs, against the Boston Bruins. The Leafs won, in the Air Canada Centre, before a capacity crowd of dead people. (Really?)

I am not being cynical. This is how things are.