In Passing

A friend said that she observed our subway behaviour and compared it to out-of-subway experience. On the subway we stand or sit close to each other, legs, arms touching and yet we tolerate that physical closeness on some impersonal plane. In any other circumstance, it would be seen as an invasion of personal space. It’s as though there is another standard for transitory experience.

Sometimes, in passing, you can hear a condensed version of a person’s life. I was coming back from the Hammer (steel city close to the belly button of the universe, aka TO). It was late evening, already dark, the bus full of people. A woman sat down in the seat next to me, a fluffy dog peeking out from her huge, white handbag. We started chatting. She was from Iran, learning English. I didn’t want to talk politics – the Canadian way is to stick to the weather. She didn’t like our winters – I remember how brutal and long they seem when you first come from another place. She lived in Turkey and separated from an abusive partner. She sensed my unspoken question: how did she come to Canada, on what grounds was she able to emigrate. She said that she came as a refugee, as she was a transgender person. We continued to talk, she told me how much she loves TO, the freedom she feels here. As we approached the station, we exchanged first names and parted.

I listened to a song from the new Neko Case album. It’s good. Her voice has this poignant clarity, country feel without being country. She is doing interviews to promote the album (The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You – what a title). Her grandmother died recently and so did her parents. She wasn’t close to her parents. In her 40’s, never married, without children, she seems separate from the ordinariness of the typical life and yet able to sing so eloquently about it.

I had her new song in my head when I was walking on Bloor Street, past Chanel store windows where mannequins were made to resemble Marilyn, except that she was a tall, skinny Marilyn wearing clothes that Marilyn wouldn’t wear.

And then I noticed young men with beards everywhere. Steampunk, death metal or ZZ Top, I couldn’t decide which was the prevailing influence. The bearded ones wore skinny pants and somehow the whole thing was a misguided fashion mishmash. I don’t think Neko Case would approve, although she might smile.


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