Yesterday, I was walking back to this apartment when two young men on the street stopped me by simply asking how I was doing and offering to shake hands. It turned out they didn’t want anything from me; they just wanted to talk. They were both from Parry Sound, near the southern edge of Northern Ontario, and had come down to Toronto for the street festival noisily going on not far outside my bedroom window as I type this. We didn’t talk long because we had little in common, as they were two young guys looking to get drunk and pass out, and I didn’t do that even back when I was their age; but the conversation was pleasant and friendly, and I was glad to have had the experience.
Later on, I reflected on how rarely that sort of thing happens among Torontonians. Our city is famous for the politeness of its residents, but the politeness is superficial. Torontonians tend to walk around wrapped in plastic bubbles of politeness, so that everyone is easy to get along with but there is no real contact; and, under that plastic bubble, most people are each other’s bitter enemies, furiously competing with each other for resources. This is especially true about those Torontonians who already have more resources than they and theirs could possibly consume in one lifetime no matter how gluttonously they consumed. It is also, sadly, true of the desperately indigent scrounging their next meal any way they can. It is the sliver of our city’s population that doesn’t have much but also isn’t in danger of starvation, that is the most likely to be genuinely friendly and open, and that, in fact, most often notice those worse off than themselves, let alone drop a dollar coin in their paper cup and give them a cigarette. I am a member of that demographic sliver, and we are severely outnumbered by the combination of those struggling to make ends meet and those who have plenty and are addicted to acquiring more. Both of those latter populations, which dominate Toronto, make sure they are superficially pleasant with everyone while making sure everyone else, including their own spouses and children, keep their distance.
This led me to reflect on how it is that, after having lived in Toronto for the most part since 1975, I have nary a single friend in this city. False and inadequate friends have come and gone, but, for decades, there has been no one. In the last ten years, with one forgettable exception, all of my “friends” have been online, and all of them have been prevented by responsibilities or poverty from arranging to meet me in person, just as I could never scrounge up the money to meet them. And it’s simply a fact that an online “friend” cannot be a true friend. No matter how warm the contact with such a person, you are always dealing with, at bottom, no more than a cluster of pixels. Real friendship requires in-person contact. It’s just that simple.
For many years I resented being trapped by poverty in this city, with its superficial politeness concealing a Hobbesian reality. Over the last year, however, I’ve come to accept that there is no escape from it, and have developed a lifestyle in which I have minimal contact with anyone in person. My disability check means that I don’t have to compete with anyone for resources, so I don’t, even if my resources are pathetically small, and are in fact far less than the resources of the working poor who politely cut each other’s throats so they can afford to eat and sleep under a ceiling rather than under the sky. And the wealthy and entitled, who cut each other’s throats for the mere sake of acquiring even more of what they already have too much of? I am beneath their notice, and they make it clear that they don’t want me in their back yard, as I do not belong in their cushy lives, so I oblige them as well by staying away from them. And it’s not an uncomfortable life for me to spend 15 hours a day sitting in front of my computer, out of sight and out of mind, but also no trouble to anyone in plastic-bubble Toronto, so that they don’t make trouble for me, either.