Random Observations

Written by Leo N.

I watched a man go insane.

It was a slow process, but over the course of three weeks, he went from his usual snarly self to completely insane. He spoke incoherently, laughed like a freak, cried like a child, spent money on things he did not need and made absolutely no sense.

When your life has no direction and it is not worth living, you can't sleep, your job sucks, your wife left you for another man, you have no idea where your kid is and you're 2000km away from home, maybe that's all it takes to go insane. He was taken away with an ambulance and a doctor. I haven't seen him since.

I watched a person who meant the world to me turn into someone I do not know. She was my reason for being and now she is just a memory from my past. She doesn't even look the same or sound the same. She doesn't stir the same emotions in me anymore. I recognize her and yet I do not, and I remain baffled by this each time.

Funerals go by my workplace every day. Sometimes there are lots of cars. In some cases the parade is so big that it needs police cars, sirens wailing, to stop traffic ahead of them just so they can get through. Some other funerals are very short, with only the hearse and the limo. They come quietly and leave just as quickly. Some people come and go in this world without causing the tiniest stir.

When the Canadian National Exhibition started this year, I was at work. When the other guard arrived, a small Somalian man, the Royal Canadian Air Force had just started their show with CF-18s, flying all over the city. I saw RCAF planes flying in perfect formation, dangerous, acrobatic maneuvers and I marvelled at their ability, agility and speed. The other man's eyes filled with fear and he froze, staring at me, not understanding why I wasn't terrorized. I didn't understand his fear. It's moments like these when you realize the fortune of living in a place all your life where a plane is an object of marvel and not death from above.

When I was a kid my parents would take me down to Front Street to see the Santa Claus parade. I saw it for many years, even after it occurred to me that Santa wasn't real. For some reason the only thing I can remember is the black truck with the red wheels that was trailing patiently behind at the end of one parade, waiting to go somewhere to do a delivery. Every time I am down Front Street I find myself looking for the truck. But it's never there.

There is plenty of crack in this area. It's a shame to see many young men, listening to rap that keeps repeating the word 'respect' and how it should be shown, while they can't even stand up, much less respect themselves. They look so lost and on a different plane of existence. I've wondered more than once if they're actually listening to the lyrics because they like it or because they have to in order to believe that they belong.

A young woman parks her purple car, with Swiss-clock precision in front of me every day at 0830 hours. She looks at me, I look at her car. It's a horrible purple. Each time I look up, I see it and you just can't avoid it. Your eyes fall on it, so out of place it is with all the browns and greys and dusty colours that mark this area. At 1530 hours, every day, she comes and picks up the car. She looks at me, I look at her car. It really is repulsive.

The other day a young woman came to talk to me. Fairly attractive, South Asian, dressed very modern. I had no idea who she was, though she looked familiar. She wanted to know who did the stucco on the building. The building is brown and has a faux European look to it that would look out of place anywhere you'd put it. I wrote on the back of a parking permit the name of the company for her. She talked for twenty minutes about how great the stucco was. I did not know so much admiration could be had for stucco, but I collect old phones, so I said nothing. After a bit of this one-sided conversation, she thanked me and left. She hopped in her car and drove off. It was the owner of the purple car.

When I worked at Gerrard Square I was very young, but the job was meant for someone very strong. At first it took me three hours to clean the entire mall and the bathrooms. A month later I had it all worked down to less than 40 minutes of perfect efficiency. My boss was very pleased with the end results and always complimented me. I used to only work weekends because I did not like working with this one particular guy who always picked on me. His only joy, it seemed, was to criticize me and my work, work I took a lot of pride in. That was ten years ago. Yesterday I was riding the bus to go see my grandmother and I saw him, sitting in the back. It occurred to me that if he lost about 200 pounds he could actually look decent. Maybe even wear clean clothes with no stains or holes in them. I kept looking at him and he looked up at me. You could see he had a vague recollection of who I was but could not put his finger on it. I was going to say something, but the look on his face said he had punished himself enough in life. I got off at my stop.

I went to college, spent plenty of money, studied hard and got all A's. I got a job as an Assistant Editor and I loved it. Then a whole bunch of people got laid off, me included. It made the company look profitable and the investors happy. I now work as a security guard, while I look for a job. Every morning I replace the same guard. He went to school, spent a lot of money, studied hard, got all A's and became an airplane mechanic. He can't find a job. Every day another guard replaces me at the end of my "tour of duty." This guy needs his ass kicked. Repeatedly.

There used to be a mother cat living behind the security booth. I shared my lunch with her. One day she realized that her home was a construction site and she decided to move her litter. I was there with a friend chatting, when we saw her trying to cross Lansdowne Avenue with one of the kittens. She tried very hard, but she is small and the kitten was pretty big at this point. He kept falling off her mouth and rolling on the street and cars wouldn't stop. My friend and I froze in fear. Each time she picked him back up, despite the cars, and continued crossing. She disappeared behind a house. I see her every now and then hunting for birds.

I live on the East end of town but I work on the West. The South Asian kid that works in the coffee shop across from where I work, where each morning I get my caffeine, is my neighbour. It amused us both.

There is a photo on the fridge of my now-deceased grandfather, surrounded by his family, looking happy. When he was in the war, fighting with the Fascists, he served in Africa and then was shipped to Russia. The Russians captured him, but let him loose, keeping only the Germans. He walked back to Italy. When he arrived, the Allies picked him up and put him to work fighting against the Germans. He once said to me that everything he used to consider a problem or difficulty in life before the war seemed trivial and superficial after it.

My other grandfather died a vegetable. Before that he was retired. And before that, a mechanic at Toyota. And even before that, an Engineer on submarines on what turned out to be the wrong side. Sometimes the torpedoes would hit the side of a British cruiser with a loud clank and sink unexploded. They would dive just as fast and wait for the depth charges to stop dropping. He got assigned to many submarines. Many times when he came back from leave, he'd find out that the submarine he had been posted on would not be returning ever again. There is a small picture frame on the wall with his photo, a medal and a certificate saying he did well in the war. I always wondered what they meant by 'doing well' in a war.

I met a girl the other day who woke a minuscule fraction of emotion in me. It surprised me yet pleased me to realize that I have not gone completely numb. I tried to talk to her but she bit my head off. Then she relaxed. Just as things seemed to warm up nicely, it turns out she likes someone else.

This year I sent out 210 job applications, for a grand total of 572 since I got laid off. Someone said to me that I am not trying hard enough. In the last two years and a half, I've had three interviews and received six rejection letters. I received the sixth this year. For some reason, it made me very happy.

I fell last weekend. It was one of those slow-motion types of falls, where you feel like you should've hit the ground half an hour ago and yet you're still headed, fast, towards the ground. For some reason my mobile phone disentangled itself from my belt and I watched it sail past my face. In my clumsy attempt at saving it, I only caused it to fly higher. At this point I decided that perhaps my efforts would be better spent if I tried to cushion my fall. I landed on the cement without a scratch. I looked up just in time to see the phone explode in fourteen pieces of assorted sizes. Every job application I've sent has that number on it. I decided that getting a new one might be a good idea.

I bought the cheapest I could find that did not have flipping mechanisms or was too small for me to lose. I wanted no silly stuff on it. No bells, no whistles. I wanted one that served the original purpose it was designed for: make phone calls. My phone glows blue and has "I'm so happy to see you!" menus. It beeps for no apparent reason. It tries very hard to outguess what I am trying to do and always gets it wrong. I'm very annoyed.

Every morning at 0845 hours the coffee truck makes a special stop just for me. I go out and have a nice chat with the driver about the tribulations of life while I sip my second cup of coffee. I look forward to this cup every day and it's the best one ever. I have no idea why.

When I don't feel happy about the way things have been going this year, rather than jump right away onto the subway, I walk part of the way home. Peter taught me this exercise. As I walk I see humanity and I see people who have it far worse than I do. Sometimes I need to be reminded.

The Sri Lankan cleaner, the Somalian construction worker and I were having a rather animated conversation about current politics. In Italian. One of the disturbingly pretty tenants later asked me what language I had been speaking. I told her it was Assyrian. "Oh, I thought you were from Ottawa." She really is pretty.

Sometimes I feel like dropping everything, quit the good fight and just go home. The problem is that I have no idea where home is. So I stay. The problem is that I have no idea what I am fighting for.

I watched a man go insane.

It was a slow process, but over the course of three weeks, he went from his usual snarly self to completely insane. He spoke incoherently, laughed like a freak, cried like a child, spent money on things he did not need and made absolutely no sense.