Maybe its happened in your town. Its happened in Toronto. A town I loved. Everywhere you go now. Towers. Stalinesque architecture. Row after row of ugly. A wall of brick and glass along the lake. Tower city in the north. And now the west end. The promise of 30 story buildings along a major thoroughfare. 30 years ago the city had a plan. 20 years ago another plan. Plans were never followed. Developers do what they do. Make money. Build ghettos. Ghettos for the rich. Cages for the poor. Toronto. Once a city of neighbourhoods, now a city of parking lots. Caused by greedy developers, corrupt politicians, and an indifferent population.

These are buildings in Toronto, Moscow, East Berlin and Mississauga. That’s the thing about ugly. Its hard to tell them apart.

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This is a short documentary with Frank Gehry, the famous architect, designing a harbor in Sonderborg, Denmark.

Brutality of their own

December 29, 2011

A child life is filled with thugs. That parents know nothing about. Some of the worst crimes against children are committed by other children. I remember a kid. We’ll call him Brady. He wanted so much to be friends. With anyone. That everyone took advantage of him. One time I can remember trading comics with him. I traded 4 or 5 comics to him for a couple dozen of his. When my father found out, he marched me back to Brady’s house. When Brady’s father found out, he lit into Brady. Called him a wimp and several other endearing words of the times. My sister was picked on by her friends. When she was about 7 years old, the girls she hung out with took her down into a basement of one of their houses and talked her into taking all her clothes off. Then they left her there. Crying. Huddled in the corner. For what must have seemed like hours.

It wasn’t all psychological. I can remember returning to my old neighbourhood and a gang of kids there tying me to a tree. And whipping me with tree branches.

This story is more of a portrait. Of kids trying to escape brutality. Through image. Bravado. And brutality of their own.



“I’ve had my escape planned for years.”

That’s how Tony talks. Quietly. Softly. Self-assured. Like he has all the angles covered. Like he’s consulted a Hollywood writer. To sketch out his life. Not too many details

“That’s the first thing you’ve got to learn if you’re going to choose a life of crime.”

Tony has a movie vision of crime. Making the big killing. Being killed. Or living the rest of your days with a big smile on your face. Knowing that you fooled the man. Tony liked that expression, the man. It appealed to his sense of fairness.

“Imagine every possible job you hope to pull off and then imagine that it goes wrong and you need to escape. Visualize. Even life itself. Death will come.”

Tony sees himself as a kind of philosopher. Tough. Like a wise guy. Who is wise. Knows his way round the block.

“You know there’s going to be that final moment or moments when it’s all going to end. And how are you going to escape that. I got a way. I got it all figured out.”

Tony likes to chew gum when he talks. Philosophizing. Imagining that Socrates snapped that  rubber in his mouth. It made Tony feel. Existential. He didn’t know what the word meant. He’d read it in a comic book. Somewhere. Maybe Batman. But he liked the sound of it. Existential. Sent a chill up your spine. Like gum popping.

“Know thyself. That’s the first thing I learned. And I knew. Went over it in my head. Since I was a kid. And taking accordion lesson. I was never going to be brilliant. Not squeezing the box. Not at anything. Not that I ain’t smart. I’m plenty smart. But in the straight world if you’re going to do things on the straight and narrow, you got to be really smart. And lucky. Better be smarter than lucky. That’s the second thing I learned. Crime was easier. I mean the learning curve is sharper. You gotta learn or you’ll burn.”

Tony likes to see himself as a guy who’s seen both sides of life. From up and down. All that Joni Mitchell shit. He likes to see himself as a survivor. Like he walked out of the rubble of an Italian town after the second world war. An orphan who made it. Except of course that it would have been his grandfather who walked out of the rubble. And his father who built up the plumbing business that now pays his rent. If he lived alone. But Tony stills lives at home. Somebody had to do his laundry.

“People say. Mostly teachers and guidance counsellors say.  Tony, you could go far if you applied yourself. Applied myself. What they mean is work hard. Jump through the hoops. Kiss ass. Do what is expected. And do it over and over again. And then hope you’re lucky. Luck has too much to do with being straight. In the criminal world, luck has nothing to do with it. So I chose crime. That’s the third thing I learned. Oh, I didn’t mention it yet. There’s not as much competition in crime. Most of the people who are criminals are stupid. Morons. They get caught by high school drop outs – cops. How stupid you gotta be?”

You can see where Tony is headed. Probably get caught shoplifting. And bawl his eyes out if they keep him an hour in jail. The parents will come down to the police station and get him out. The mother will cry all the way home. The father will drive too fast. And yell. And Tony will sit in the back seat and smirk. And think how much cred this will give him with his friends.

“So I got two buddies now. Both morons. I wouldn’t say that to their faces of course. They’re sensitive. People are like that about the truth. There’s Teddy. Teddy is a cry baby. Been a cry baby since he was a … a cry baby. I’ve known him most of my life. He’s afraid of the dark. Afraid of his momma. Teddy is just a bag of jello. And then there’s Sean. The guy thinks he’s black. Keeps using the N word every time he opens his mouth. Which is something Teddy hates. Teddy is an N. Sean would change places with Teddy in a nanosecond. Sean is all muscle, no brain.”

Tony’s friends are more pathetic than he is. Isn’t that how all criminal networks begin? Little creeps. Who are always taking the easy way out. Tony is right when he says that Teddy is a baby. If it was up to Teddy he’d be back on the tit tomorrow. And Sean! A brute. One of those guys who likes putting his fist through someone’s teeth. For practice. And one day gets caught in an alley. By someone with dentures. And friends.

“But Sean likes me. I think he’s a faggot. But that’s okay. What do I care as long as I’m not putting out for him and he does what he’s told. Course, I could never tell Sean that he’s a faggot. Who the hell knows how he would react if he had to face the truth about himself? But it comes in handy. Having two guys who’ll pretty well do what I want. And what I want is to make a reputation. Stealing. Robbing drug stores. We’re going to be called the Drug Store Bandits. That’s why we’re going to rob drug stores. It sounds good. In a rap. Maybe on the news.”

You see how smart Tony is. He wants to be remembered for being a thief. Of drug stores. Blind ambition. Sometimes I wonder how he got this far. Mom was too easy on him. That’s what I think. And dad. Never kicked his ass like he kicked mine. The older brother. That’s what they call me. Don’t even bother to call me by name. Be a plumber. Get a trade. Sweat my ass off for the family. While their little golden boy sits around playing the tough guy. And heading straight to hell.

“Drug Store Bandids. It makes a neat name for a gang. Later on after we hit the big time, I’ll probably go out on my own. That’s what happens in rock groups. The lead singer leaves the group once they make a name for themselves. Well, why not? I’m going to make a name for myself. I can’t have morons hanging on to me. Dragging me down. You know what I’m saying? I’ve got to be myself. But that’s for later. Right now, we’re going to make everyone stand up and pay attention. Drug Store Bandits. It’s gotta a ring to it.”

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