Typ­ing at Tim’s and other things you just don’t do in Car­bon­ear

The Compass - - EDITORIAL OPINION -

When I was try­ing to de­cide whether or not I should leave Toronto to come to Car­bon­ear, I made a pro­con list. At the top of my cons list, I wrote: “Have to leave friends, fam­ily, all the im­por­tant peo­ple I care about.” On top of pros, I wrote: “Get to leave peo­ple, in gen­eral.”

The de­ci­sion was ob­vi­ous. Here I am.

In Car­bon­ear, it’s pretty easy to avoid all con­tact with “peo­ple in gen­eral.” When I’m walk­ing or bik­ing around town, there’s a good chance I won’t see an­other soul on the road. If I do, they are usu­ally in their cars or work­ing on their prop­erty, and there’s a safe and de­lib­er­ate dis­tance be­tween us.

I don’t con­sider my­self a ter­ri­ble recluse, and I don’t dis­like friendly con­ver­sa­tion with the oc­ca­sional un­fa­mil­iar per­son. I just don’t like be­ing in con­stant close quar­ters with them. I don’t like to smell their smells. I don’t like to in­hale what they ex­hale.

In down­town Toronto, we are con­stantly brush­ing up against strangers as we live our pri­vate lives. It’s like hav­ing too many socks in the dryer. Toron­to­ni­ans rum­ble to­gether in a small, busy world, mak­ing and break­ing static at­tach­ments as quickly as we can fall into each other. These at­tach­ments can be won­der­ful, full of pos­si­bil­i­ties — the stuff of ro­man­tic come­dies.More of­ten, how­ever, they are un­com­fort­able, em­bar­rass­ing, frus­trat­ing, or a lit­tle bit gross.

Per­haps I’m be­ing petty, but I re­ally hate stand­ing on the sub­way and feel­ing some guy breath on my neck. Can’t he aim his mouth up at the ceil­ing? I also hate it when I’m stand­ing up and there are up­wards of seven peo­ple hold­ing the same sub­way pole. A crowded sub­way is hot, and my hand in­evitably gets sweaty, but there are no cold, dry spots on the pole where I can move it. It’s in these mo­ments that the driver usu­ally chooses to break sud­denly. Then my sweaty hand slips off the pole and in­er­tia sends me fly­ing into some strange man’s lap. If I’m re­ally un­lucky, the strange man then pro­ceeds to breathe on me.

Then there are all the con­ver­sa­tions around you — you can’t help but over­hear them. Most strangers’ con­ver­sa­tions are ba­nal, some are in­ter­est­ing, but some are re­ally painful to wit­ness. Once, in a bar, I over­heard two men dis­cussing the lo­gis­tics of cheat­ing on their wives. At the park, I once over­heard a buxom 13-year-old tu­tor her young friend on “ how boys want girls to act.” My most mem­o­rable over­heard con­ver­sa­tion lasted only sec­onds. Get­ting off the sub­way, the man I had been silently sitting next to for over 20 min­utes took out his cell phone and said: “Hey, sweetie, I’m just on my way to the doc­tor’s of­fice. Yes … the stool sam­ple is in my pocket.”

This would never hap­pen in Car­bon­ear. Not be­cause peo­ple don’t do these things, but be­cause they don’t have to do it in pub­lic.

Here, al­most noth­ing is done in pub­lic. Car­bon­ear­i­ans go from a con­fined des­ti­na­tion, to a car, to an­other con­fined des­ti­na­tion. Their pri­vate lives are vis­i­ble only to friends, fam­ily and co-work­ers. In­ter­ac­tions with strangers, when they do oc­cur, hap­pen within a dig­ni­fied amount of space. Packs of teenagers don’t loi­ter on the street; peo­ple don’t slurp up their lunches on a park bench, and no one ac­ci­den­tally flips their hair in your mouth at a busy cross­walk. I haven’t so much as seen a per­son read a book in pub­lic here.

Of course, this was lib­er­at­ing, for a while, un­til I re­al­ized how un­pre­pared I was to live in se­cluded dig­nity.

When I first moved into my apart­ment back in May, my land­lord for­got to tell me where res­i­dents should dis­pose of their garbage and re­cy­clables. So, I did what was nat­u­ral, for me. I knocked on my next-door neigh­bour’s door to get his ad­vice. He looked at me like I was in­sane. Not for ask­ing about re­cy­cling, al­though ap­par­ently that is a novel con­cept here, but for knock­ing on his door when I didn’t even know him. Al­most ev­ery day I catch him on the stairs or lis­ten to his tele­vi­sion blar­ing through the thin walls, but in talk­ing to him, I had clearly crossed some sort of line.

Then I re­al­ized there are cer­tain things I re­ally like to do out­side, in pub­lic — like run­ning and hav­ing a stretch in the park with­out cars slow­ing down to gawk at me. In Toronto, peo­ple trip over them­selves to be as un-judg­men­tal as pos­si­ble, and parks can be full of any­thing from dance lessons to drum cir­cles to 80-year old shirt­less men twist­ing them­selves into ad­vanced yoga moves.

In Car­bon­ear, parks are for two things: kids and his­tor­i­cal plaques. As soon as an adult per­son goes into one, peo­ple just think it’s strange.

Then there is the pub­lic spec­ta­cle I miss the most about the city, cof­fee shop cul­ture. Tim Hor­tons is great and all, but no one does any­thing there ex­cept drink cof­fee.

As an as­pir­ing writer, I need the cul­ture. I need to sit in a seat, take out my com­puter, and fo­cus on what­ever pro­ject I’m work­ing on. I can’t fo­cus at my apart­ment. It’s too easy to be dis­tracted by dirty dishes, or the fridge, or the free­dom to have a nap. There’s more to do than just write, as well. Cof­fee shops are the ideal place for first dates, or study groups, or just re­lax­ing with the pa­per. Do peo­ple in Car­bon­ear do all of these things in their homes? Do they never take ad­van­tage of their neu­tral ter­ri­tory?

The pri­vacy is­sue is ob­vi­ously a two-sided one, but since I’ll soon be back in the Toronto hus­tle, I’ve de­cided to em­brace the space while I can. Here, ev­ery morn­ing, I can get my bike out onto Sad­dle Hill and look proudly on the empty road that is my com­mute. Then I feel the salty sea air tickle my nostrils and I think, “that is fresh.”

If some­one out there has B. O., I can’t smell it.

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