huffing in toronto

Toronto_subway_train_type_h6_interi What a day in Toronto!   I am in town to interview women of middle age about chocolate.  By the 4th interview my head was spinning: so much data, such a whirlwind of interpretive frames. 

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?

5 thoughts on “huffing in toronto

  1. Christopher

    Wait…. what?

    Was that like a Beckett? A one act play? An opening to the new Harmony Korine movie? Something by Gus Van Sant perhaps?

    I was right with you until the huffing shaman. Or perhaps he was a trixter. Either way, an omen?

    Perhaps this is was from a David Lynch film then. Were there midgets or anyone talking backward? Then I’ll know for sure.

  2. Ray Monner

    The great divider: method of transportation.
    I pity my friends with cars. The TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) offers so much more.

  3. Renan Petersen-Wagner

    Why are the girls menacing at the first point? To appear I guess. To show the “crowd” how menacing they are. That they are from a gang. They are part of a group, a “terrible group”. But when the guy came out, he got all the attentions to him. He became the focal point of the metro. He was doing something more extravagant, something that “no one” was expecting. He was a “better show” to the crowd.

    the girls had 2 paths to follow:

    1- be more menacing than the guy and became a “better show”
    2- be less and let the guy be the #1 at the metro

    if you look that “normally” we live in a man society, and their group should follow this example, being a fractal of the society, I expect that the girls should follow #2 and let the guy be the center of attention of the metro.

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