On the subway to Scarborough, near the Victoria Park station, I watch 3 girls in their early teens: one an African-Canadian Muslim wearing a chador (sp?), another women who appeared to be Ethiopian by descent, now dressed in a thoroughly Canadian manner, and their Eurasian friend, a women who entertained the car by dancing in the isles. She wasn’t very good at dancing. But she was young and beautiful and, well, she was dancing…and that never happens on a Canadian subway.
I remembering riding the Bloor line after the Blue Jays won a World Series. Everyone was just sitting there, minding their own business in that Canadian way that absents us from the situation even as we monitor one another right down to the ground. Finally, a Jamaican guy exploded with indignation, leapt to his feet and said, "What is the matter with you people? You just won the World series, I mean, it’s the World series, and you’re just sitting there." It’s what we do, our national thing. We just sit there.
Anyhow, the third girl was wearing the colors and fashions of gang affiliation…I think more as a fashion statement than a declaration of group membership, but who knows. And to complete this picture of pretend (practice?) menace, the girls were being aggressive with one another, threating violence, promising vengeance, wowing the car filled with the people in the car all of whom, including your trusty anthropologist, practice nonviolence as a way of life, blue helmet and all. (Who cares about fashion when you can wear headgear that says, "please don’t shoot me.")
And then, as if by magic, a man appeared on one of the seats. He was middle aged, deeply tanned, pretty well and casually dressed. He had a big sports bag, brimming with paper and clothing. And he was struggling with something…what was he struggling with? Ah, a metal can filled with paint thinner. He was grinning like a silent film villain, chuckling madly, establishing eye contact with everyone one by one. (Canadians are wonderfully circumspect on this issue. We can see sideways, so eye contact is quite unnecessary.) And every so often he would dip a piece of fabric in the can, hold the fabric in a cupped hand, put his hand to his mouth, and inhale deeply. Ah! He was "huffing," I think it’s called.
The girls were stunned into silence. I think they were surprised that anyone could be so absolutely menacing without the aid of fashionable clothing or gang colors. The question was, how menacing? Was this guy a threat? The girls thought about it. They seemed to decide the guy was harmless. But there was another question. Were they still menacing?