My City Was Gone


“Living just enough, just enough, for the city.”

The Big Cities of the past weren’t for everyone. In the hardscrabble days when I was growing up in Montreal or in Toronto, a city rat could always make ends meet, somehow, some way. There was always that neighbourhood where you could find a deal, that part of town where, while it might not be pretty, but, be it ever so humble, you could find a place to crash if you were short of dough. Or a place to score if you wanted to get high. You might not have a Rolex, but you could find a knockoff for a couple of bucks. k market 1976

When you’re really hungry, a bag of smelts tastes like caviar. And back then, the smaller, inner city groceries, run mostly by the children of immigrants, could always be counted on as somewhere to find something cheap and cheerful to feed the belly of the hungry.

 

 

But getting older often means learning the hard way that the city you once knew is gone forever, for good or for ill. Cities change, landmarks disappear, and the people’s needs change. Progress seeks to whitewash the reality of the poverty and the needy that always lurk in a big city’s depths. Your need to find a little corner of the metropolis to call your own won’t necessarily be fulfilled when you most need it, even if you’re willing to bend to nearly breaking point, just to stay where you’ve lived most of your life.

Life in the big city was never gonna be easy for everybody, but for those of us who came here chasing a dream, there was a time when it was easier to make it work. These days, the city rats have to give way to the up and coming high tech mice, who have the wherewithal to pay the big rents, the big mortgages, and who have enough of the ready to enjoy the best of the city that wants to be world class.

for sale signsWhen we sold our home in 2016, we didn’t worry about where we’d land up next. Surely we’d come up roses on a nice, new place to rent, someplace where we could keep our ‘stuff’ and exist comfortably for the foreseeable future.

But our search was far more difficult that we’d thought, and we didn’t find a cubby hole to curl up in straight away – there were a lot of twists and turns on the journey. And once here, the drawbacks of this particular rental surfaced, meaning that this isn’t where we’ll be staying long-term either.

But where we were lucky was in having a good credit rating, reasonably good health, and a couple of bucks in the bank. Not that any of that guarantees you’ll find a decent living space, but when you put them all together, it will help make the search just a little less frustrating.

There are several reasons why living in the bigger cities of North America has become harder for the lower to middle class. We’ve lived through decades of foolish governments who hung on to power by failing to increase taxes enough to keep the city running. Our infrastructure has been strained to it’s limits without the injections of cash needed to keep the trains going, or the hospitals able to handle an aging society.

Those same governments, as a rule, also tended to side with commercial leasing entities over renters, allowing businesses to take huge tax write offs on over priced properties that could stand vacant for months and even years, until a lessee with big dollars took occupation.

Real estate prices have soared in the last decade, until even the tiniest, most rundown, residential property in the city starts at a million dollars, and goes up into the stratosphere from there. Real estate agents are becoming the nouveau riche. Who can afford to buy those properties?

And yet the ‘for sale’ signs go up, and in days, come down, with the replacement sign reading, ‘sold over asking.’ How many of these buyers are house poor, I wonder? And how will they pay the overblown mortgage should one half of a couple lose their jobs or become ill?

straight outta scarboroughGentrification has been excising the more interesting parts of the city for at least the last thirty years. Within another three to five years, Yonge Street south of Bloor will be as nondescript as a Scarborough mall, packed with chain stores, fast food franchises, Starbucks, and a Shopper’s Drug Mart on every corner.

If I wanted Scarborough drab .. I’d go to Scarborough. “Cleaning up” Yonge street really means erasing our sense of history and place, and of sanding down the grit of People City, leaving behind the sort of bland, generic playground that is fit only for the children of the very wealthy.

dying from exposureI know that this is no longer the city that I came to conquer back in 1976; there are new generations coming up behind me, young and hungry, and eager to prove themselves in their fields.

But how are they to survive, when those with the ability to raise them up, choose instead to shackle these young spirits with internships and exposure? Where exactly are they to find the bootstraps these strugglers are supposed to pull up?

And most importantly… where are these young tyros supposed to live? And how are they to eat? When living is reduced to just surviving, there’s little time or will to create.

Once upon a time, those who yearned to enjoy and participate in Canada’s culture flocked to Montreal, Toronto, or Vancouver, and took their chances, clawing their way to success, or falling by the wayside. But international big money has taken that option out of the equation.

If you didn’t buy real estate twenty years ago, you’re going to have to be in rarefied company to be able to afford to buy today. Even your ability to rent in a ‘better area’ of the metropolises is an iffy proposition.

Globalization, gentrification … we’re moving from the end of the industrial age into the fullness of the digital, high tech world. And our cities reflect that change, just as at one point they reflected the scions who traveled in horse and buggy.

The cities have begun to depend upon video, cellular communications, artificial intelligence, and eventually, a robotics industry that will force countries to accept a basic income that will keep the lower and middle class in just enough financial stability to stay alive … though that life may not be what many would have considered livable even a decade or two ago. The digital elite will own the residences; the rest of us will vie for the privilege of renting.

tent cities 2018And those who fall between the cracks will live in the tent cities that are now springing up to house the homeless.

The cities, as we knew them, are changing. Some cities, like San Francisco and New York, are already gone. and it could be argued that Vancouver is next, with Toronto not far behind.

As much as we may yearn to keep this from happening, globalization is inevitable, and as unstoppable as a tidal wave.

And, for many, that wave is washing away the possibility of aging in place in the Big City.

 

Wild and Wacky Weathering


In June 2012, Amazon picked The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker as one of the month’s best reads. A combination coming-of-age story and apocalyptic page turner, the novel focused on how people would react to a changed world, where “the Earth’s rotation slows, gradually stretching out days and nights and subtly affecting the planet’s gravity. ”     
age of miracles
The book outlines how a young girl, along with her family and friends, cope with this adjustment, as the planet wobbles off to it’s slow demise.  Meanwhile, the best laid plans and schemes from governments fail to make much difference in how the Earth’s denizens cope with the disaster.

And that’s kind of where we’re at these days, isn’t it? We’re in a vague malaise, unable to confidently say what the weather will be like today or tomorrow, while hapless governments, even if they agree that there is a problem, struggle to find bandaid solutions to  the earths’ sores that have been left to fester for too long.
trump alone at G20

Except this guy .. this guy thinks he knows better than anyone on the planet, be they incredibly educated scientists or those who have spent their lives dedicated to studying the effect of climate change on people. This guy is an asshat.

It must really be pointed out how completely insanely and selfishly Trump and his band of reverse Robin Hood Merry Men are behaving. They’re hooting and hollering like ignorant hillbillies as they seal the environmental fate of those fools who voted for them to make life altering decisions, in the name of ‘economic change.’ These corporate raiders of the environment are convinced that money and power will save them from dying from a lack of clean air and water. But just them. The rest of us? Dream on. We’re all going down with this ship.

Remember when the first rumblings about a change in the planet’s clime began to hit the middle class consciousness? Those who could see the bigger picture were worried about how even a slight shift in warming could damage our environment, the least of our worries being an increase in natural disasters, as melting polar ice caps brought about flooding, and extreme weather swings were tempered with more frequent and deadlier droughts.

Others smiled at the thought of palm trees growing down the main streets of large northern cities. With a thorough lack of understanding of the fragility and interweaving of climate and landmass, some hoped this warming would bring about new tropical beaches in heretofore frigid areas. These foolish humans thought they could somehow control where and when climate change would happen, and bend it to their wishes.

All of their fantasies depended upon where they were located, and hinged upon a lack of empathy for those who would see the opposite of these desires. In order to have the tropics brought to your front yard, many countries would have to be completely displaced or disappear from their current sites. In order to have Floridian temperatures in Boston, New York or Toronto, you first have to lose Florida.

But, of course, they were attempting to take a world problem, and make it into a personal triumph.  Still, Man proposes, god and the environment disposes. You’ve only to look locally, to the disastrous flooding on the Toronto Islands and the economic battering Toronto is taking on this matter alone, to see that we have no control whatsoever when Mother Nature gets pissed off. Instead of a tropical beach, you have land masses swept away, along with coastal areas being eroded, possibly never to be returned in our lifetimes.

I wonder what Trump will think when his precious Mar-a-Lago is swallowed up by the sea? It will happen, and I can only hope it will happen sooner than predicted. Right about now works for me.

elephant left to rotAnd when I think about those who continue to claim that our actions are too miniscule to have any sort of immediate impact upon the planet, I’m struck dumb by the hubris, and the inability of some to look at the damage we all regularly inflict upon the planet, and not see how integral each and every living creature’s actions are to maintaining this delicate balance.  Where once we knew, instinctively and intuitively, that the lowliest butterfly snatched from our timeline could have an impact upon the food chain, we now struggle to throw off responsibility for the most damaging of indignities and raping of natural resources ever seen in human history.

But don’t we love to talk about the weather! Talking about it, singing about it, trying to forecast what might be on the horizon, and molding our protective coatings around what we hold precious … this is what we have always done, since caveman days. Through the centuries we learned more about how the planet moved through it’s cycles, and how the sun and moon determined how best we could use the land and waters around us.

We learned to measure how precipitation complicated the times when seeds could be planted, in order to feed our populations. We began to understand that chemicals, seeded into the lifeblood of the planet, the very earth and air, could and would damage the reproductive cycles of all living creatures. We learned how to forecast what the weather might be in coming days, and when we would need to protect our bodies with clothing that would keep us warm, or sunscreen that would fend off the increasingly irradiating rays of the sun, which were no longer impeded by the thick coating of ozone we had taken for granted.

All of these things we learned over time, through observation of the repetition of the seasons, we now blithely toss aside in favour of commercializing and exploitation of resources, an exploitation that seems less inclined to profit humanity, but certainly enriches corporations with no concern for the actual ‘owners’ of the lands they rape.

We looked to the seasons as metaphor for our lives. The cycles of the seasons echoed the natural order of life. Spring reflected our callow youth, and Summer mirrored the fullness of being an adult. We understood that the fall indicated a slowing of days, and winter … dark, cold, unforgiving winter … symbolized a time of aging, and eventual death. The days have the same length, but there are fewer of them.

When the natural order of the seasons is displaced, when you can no longer count on April showers bringing May flowers, our human minds have difficulty grasping that which we’ve always taken for granted – the flow of time reflected in our environment.

The impact of climate change doesn’t end with the physical damage that’s being inflicted on the world. Now, those who study our psyches are beginning to see a change in how humans respond emotionally to the trauma and shock of weather events. Even if we try to avoid focusing on the earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts, floods and landslides which now occur more frequently, our minds are aware of these catastrophes, and our ability to absorb these disasters is lessened. Our empathy is impacted, leading to a rationalization of isolation, and of a need to protect what we have from those displaced by events beyond their control.

We are, in effect, living in a state of post traumatic stress and shock. Some might feel a low grade sense of depression and anxiety, while others, perhaps more sensitive to this imbalance, may have behavioural issues, ranging from substance abuse, to interpersonal and job-related difficulties. Other symptoms can include a heightening of violence and aggression towards others. It is no accident that the rate of suicide has risen in the last decade, as some decide that there’s simply no reason to carry on, in a world so out of balance.

Climate change on our planet will eventually impact every one of us, wherever we live. In recent studies (Bryant et al., 2014,) (Simpson et al., 2011,) it was noted that,
Changes in climate affect agriculture, infrastructure and liveability, which in turn affect occupations and quality of life and can force people to migrate. These effects may lead to loss of personal and professional identity, loss of social support structures, loss of a sense of control and autonomy and other mental health impacts such as feelings of helplessness, fear  and fatalism.

Extreme temperatures in their own right have a unique influence on behavior and wellbeing. As research by Craig Anderson (2001) and Simister & Cooper (2005) has shown, aggression increases as temperatures rise. Thus as summers get hotter, so might our tempers — likely due, the researchers explain, “to the impacts of heat on arousal, which results in decreases in attention and self-regulation, as well as an increase in the availability of negative and hostile thoughts.” Heat can also impact our ability to think clearly, they add, “which may reduce the ability to resolve a conflict without violence (Pilcher, Nadler, & Busch, 2002).” Higher temperatures have also been found in other research to increase the risk of suicide (Lee et al., 2006).

ecoanxiety
Add to this mounting fear and anxiety derived from watching the world around us change in irreversible ways — coupled with the helplessness of feeling as if we cannot stop or reverse global warming— and you have another effect of climate change on mental health:

“Watching the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold, and worrying about the future for oneself, children, and later generations, may be an additional source of stress (Searle & Gow, 2010),” the authors write. “Albrecht (2011) and others have termed this anxiety ecoanxiety. Qualitative research provides evidence that some people are deeply affected by feelings of loss, helplessness, and frustration due to their inability to feel like they are making a difference in stopping climate change (Moser, 2013).”

While it may be expedient and profitable for climate change deniers to continue on the path to ecological destruction, those who deny what is happening to their own psyches are impeding any kind of healing for the rest of us.  Seasons change, and we must change with them. But more gently.

It Is To Laugh!


samantha bee trevor noah.jpgIn a Salon.com article last week, Steve Almond accused Comedy Central of having “squandered Jon Stewart’s legacy” by appointing South African comedian Trevor Noah as host, over the then-incumbent Samantha Bee.

The author points to the success of Bee’s new show “Full Frontal” as proof that Noah’s lower key, outsider’s perspective, has damaged the credibility and political power of The Daily Show.

There’s so much wrong with that attitude that I barely know where to begin. Full disclosure: my conversion to political junkie is relatively recent, and as with most converts, I just can’t get enough of meaningful discussion on my new passion. I’m also an entertainer who studied comedy and acting for long enough to have a dispassionate overview of what I see on the screen – I’m not buying the physical over the intellectual. I watch for knowledge and to hear something clever that I hadn’t thought of myself.

That being said – there’s lots of leg room in the television/Internet world for a wide spectrum of opinions, and lawdy, lawdy, there’s a fan for every fanatical opinion. I dislike certain types of discourse; insightful commentary has no need to use scatology or childish insults unless justified in context. Those that shriek their thoughts are right off my list of viewing. So, that certainly leaves out the FOX News Network, and all Republican debates, no matter how ‘entertaining.’

But let’s just cut to the chase on why Samantha Bee declined the chance to succeed Jon Stewart.titans of late night 2016

I like how Vanity Fair leaned into the 50’s sexism of late night by making the photo Mad Men-themed’.

The ‘titans of late night’ sausagefest included Stephen Colbert, Conan O’Brien, James Corden, Jimmy Kimmel, John Oliver, Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon, and token light skinned Trevor Noah and Larry Wilmore. Not exactly a cultural mosaic going on there.

vanity-fair-cover2

“What’s conspicuously missing from late-night, still, is women,’ wrote David Kamp.’How gobsmackingly insane is it that no TV network has had the common sense — and that’s all we’re talking about in 2015, not courage, bravery, or even decency — to hand over the reins of an existing late-night comedy program to a female person?

(You could also add “people of colour” there, but I’ll get to that in a minute.)

While I can appreciate the work of Conan O’Brien, James Corden, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, and Jimmy Fallon, I’ve never really taken to them. I’m just ‘over’ the late night formula, with its emphasis on rising or fading stars, and middle of the road, slightly risqué, rarely challenging patter. That was always the domain of older, white males, and still largely is. That’s more ” falling asleep in front of the TV” stuff, to me.

colbert thumbs upStephen Colbert’s defection to The Tonight Show, despite his best efforts, still landed him in that traditional format. While the move made great career sense overall and I do love his joyful, melodica playing, bandleader, Jon Batiste, Colbert’s brilliance is still best viewed in his political snipes, and thankfully, the cream of his wit usually wind up getting spun off into Internet clips and memes.

Trevor Noah only has to step on stage for the conservative dog whistles to start – he’s a young, black, South African, and an immigrant who’s taken an American’s job! A gentle, soft spoken and thoughtful soul, he is able to laugh at his own foibles and to marvel at American customs and culture. I find his often wide-eyed wonder refreshing – I too sometimes feel the same gulf between how Canadians and Americans think. Sometimes it’s just too wide a mental leap to span.

The contrast between the often brash, broad humoured and ultra-white Stewart and Noah’s more restrained presence can be jarring, if all you are looking for is what you’ve already seen. But Stewart himself knew that it was time to go – he’d accomplished what he’d set out to do. He saw that it was time to move on and let the next wave of young comedians have their shot. He subsequently signed a four year production contract with HBO, while continuing as executive producer of …larry wilmore

The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore – an Afrocentric look at America’s politics. Maybe it’s the humour of the damned and the resigned, but it’s also intelligent, truthful, often wise, and empathic.

A typical, if bowdlerized, user’s comment on the show: “they have almost no white people on their show at any point, and often just disrespect that person. It’s always a black panel, it’s always the same guys opinion, who is him? I’ve never seen or heard of him. He presents rather, off humor, if any of this is humor, which it’s not, it’s just a group of people acting out raged constantly”

people care about pets over poor blacksThe main take-away being, at least on the commentator’s part, not to see a chance to explore and try to understand a different perspective on the very real problem of racism in America, and how it’s dealt with, legally and individually, but instead a demand for more white faces to rehash white opinions on a series focused on black lives. And there you have your #allLifeMatters in a nutshell.

Stewart was also instrumental in launching Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, a satirical look at news, politics and current events. Funny-sausage-principle-by-John-OliverOliver had the distinction of guest-hosting The Daily Show in the summer of 2013, when Stewart took a working sabbatical to direct his film, Rosewater. Oliver’s sardonic and exaggerated comedic ‘voice,’ was immediately acceptable to American viewers familiar with the work of British comedians in the Monty Python vein. Although his series airs only once a week, each episode is a little gem, with the bulk of the airtime focusing with laser beam intensity on a well-researched and timely item deserving of closer examination.

 

hollywood_reporter_bill_maher_coverStill a force to be reckoned with, is Bill Maher, of Real Time, and the late, lamented Politically Incorrect. The granddaddy of political satire and discussion, Maher is definitely polarizing. He’s a “love him or hate him” kinda guy. Perhaps that’s the attraction. At any rate, I’ve followed his career since the nineties, and even once seized the opportunity to be in the Politically Incorrect audience, just a week or two after 9/11. Though I can’t remember if that was the episode that got his multi –award winning show cancelled.

ABC decided against renewing Maher’s contract for Politically Incorrect in 2002, after he made a controversial on-air remark six days after the September 11 attacks. He agreed with his guest, conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza, that the 9/11 terrorists did not act in a cowardly manner (in rebuttal to President Bush’s statement calling them cowards). Maher said, “We have been the cowards. Lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building. Say what you want about it. Not cowardly. You’re right.””

Maher barely skipped a beat, moving from ABC to HBO in 2003, where his hour-long political comedy talk show, Real Time with Bill Maher, has flourished ever since.

Bill and I have been aging disgracefully – a world apart, but akin in spirit – for decades. We’re both still lippy, lefty, liberals – though I disagree with his pro-gun stance – with a sarcastic attitude, and a hate-on for bad politics, bought off politicians and mass media, inane bureaucracy, and rabid religionists of any stripe. What’s not to love? I’m positively dejected when I miss my Friday night fix of Real Time .

samantha bee on ScaliaBut circling back to Full Frontal with Samantha Bee… this new series airs only once a week. Like John Oliver, Bee touches briefly on current events, before diving deep into the murky waters of American politics. She’s funny, strong, relevant, courageous … even the show’s theme song, PeachesThe Boys Wanna Be Her,” asserts that “the boys want to be her, the girls want to be her.”

And I think that rings true to a young, engaged, non gender discriminating audience. Bee is cocky, unafraid to confront the staid establishment. Her interview with Texas Republican representative Dan Flynn, about writing the anti-abortion restrictions despite knowing little about the procedure, is typical of her style. “I speak with the authority of one who has a uterus,” Bee tells him, “and I guess that’s why I think that you’re the wrongiest, wrongheadedest wrong person.”

She’s exciting, she’s brave – and she’s Canadian! All of which allows her to comment and opine on wrongheadedness from the perspective of a country more known for acceptance than intellectual resistance. But we’re only four episodes in so far. It may seem longer, since that has encompassed four weeks, but we’re talking baby steps here.

By contrast, Trevor Noah’s been at The Daily Show since September 28, 2015, appearing four nights a week most weeks. Viewers have had time to decide on whether they like his shtick or not. Or have they? trevor noah w de Blasio

I recently watched an episode of Noah speaking with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. But this time, the episode that I watched was not the regular, clipped for time, segment normally shown in the time spot, but rather, included the ‘extended’ interview that is available only to those who seek out the episode on Comedy Central. There was an entirely different tone between the televised and the ‘only available on the Internet’ conversation.

In the first, commercially aired segment, there was a lot of polite banter and civility. But just as the conversation got started, it was cut short.

De Blasio: And look, a lot of people don’t feel the government’s treating them fairly. For years and years, a lot of – and this is especially why, as you know, I’m very involved in the issue of addressing income inequality. And, you know, it’s amazing, you see the national discussion – like, why are people angry? Why are they frustrated? Because they’ve been screwed. Because for decades they’ve seen their incomes go down. They’ve seen their economic reality decline, and they wonder if their kids are going to have anywhere near as good a life as they had. Would you be content? The anger and frustration are the natural way people should feel when they go through that, and then they take that frustration out on a government that they feel has let them down. 

Noah: That has let them down, especially when it comes to income inequality. It’s funny you bring that up, because you are big on income inequality, which seems like a Bernie Sanders supporter, and, yet, you’ve endorsed Hillary, which we’ll talk more about. TV time is up – we’ll be talking more on the web and on the app.

(the extended interview) http://www.thecomedynetwork.ca/Shows/TheDailyShow?vid=821779

Now, I can’t say that I’ve watched many of the extended interviews. However – a different Noah, a more confident, knowledgeable and willing to confront, Noah, appeared during the extended segment. And, in my opinion, that’s the Noah that viewers would prefer to the polished, safe, non-threatening, Noah they’ve been sold since his debut.

sense of humourBut really, in the end, our appreciation of comedy is personal, and only our opinion, as is our sense of humour. Everyone’s taste is different, and that’s a good thing – it speaks to our individuality. There’s room for all at the inn – pitting comedian against comedian is sophomoric and limiting. Let’s keep any nonsense austerity principles as far away from the distribution of art as we can.

Having a wide range of voices available for regular viewing is the essence of our freedom to choose, a real gift to viewers, and a paean to the right of free speech.

 

(first published Match 6/2015: bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2016/03/06/roxanne-tellier-it-is-to-laugh/)