Life in the City
2017, Henry Argasinski
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To My Friends and the City I Left Behind.
the second in a series, my story following Life in the City. Having
lived that brief moment under the spotlight running for Mayor,
becoming a Mall Walker, losing the innocence most would cherish and
finally moving beyond the glamourous yet dangerous world that was The
Eaton Centre. These pages will tell the story of moving forward and
continuing my life in the city. Despite all best efforts scandal
followed behind me from corrupt city officials, managing the “ugly
sisters” on Toronto’s waterfront to inadvertently playing a key
role in the notorious “tag and tow” episode in the history of the
city I loved. Another Life in the City follows my life during the
eight years following The Eaton Centre, to the point of eventually
leaving the city forever.
is a work in progress and will be made available exclusively on
Smashwords as chapters are added, without charge as I tell my story.
end of the day, as quoted in my first book, remember that “Once may
not be enough, but twice is too much”, which says it all.
CHAPTER FIFTY-FIVE: THE END
OF A LIFE IN THE CITY
He's just a poor boy
from a poor family,
Spare him his life from this monstrosity.
(Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody”)
The summer of 1985 came
without any great expectations on our parts; and as the days grew
warmer outside, inside the mall each continued the same as the last.
And then unexpectedly, the first week in July brought with it some
interesting moves. Cadillac Fairview announced several members of
the security department were to be transferred within the company to
supervisory positions outside of The Eaton Centre, with one or two
being selected for promotions into building operations at other
malls. My friend Michael was one of those selected, and I
congratulated him for it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving
person. The announcement was a complete bombshell to the supervisory
team for there had not been any advance notice given or consultation
provided, and even those affected seemed as surprized as the rest of
us. The moves were immediate, and the next day those chosen were
gone. The sudden change was puzzling to a number of us for it was
out of character and not the normal style of behaviour exhibited by
management over these past few years. But Life in the City went on,
and following several days as a topic of conversation over a number
of cold beers and never being able to come to any conclusions, the
rest of us would simply continue to walk the mall floors as usual.
No one suspected any underlying motive behind the moves other than
the recognition of excellent performance awarded to a few members of
the team. Cadillac Fairview was a growing company, recently having
opened two new shopping centers in the Metro Toronto area, and there
was no reason to think anything else of it. Suggesting something
more sinister behind the promotions or to believe there was some dark
specter waiting around the corner would have been seen as the onset
of the early stage of paranoia and nothing more. None of us gave any
thought to the possible of some conspiracy being in the works.
As the company grew, it
gave rise to the emergence of other Eaton Centres across the country,
from Montreal to Vancouver, and each anchored with the flagship
department store and namesake. This was no longer The Eaton Centre,
so the decision was made to change the name of the shopping center to
more properly reflect this expansion. Now the mall would be known as
the Toronto Eaton Centre.
At the same time we
started to see the departure from our ranks of a few of those who
held law enforcement as a passion in their hearts, those whose time
it was to move on. We lost two officers to the University of
Toronto’s police department, and another to CN Rail’s own police
force. Each had made use of their time at The Eaton Centre to their
advantage. However, with the exception of those having high ranking
connections through their fathers, the Metropolitan Toronto Police
continued to be an elusive quest to the ones who continued to
complete application forms and making little progress past that
That left the rest of
On the second Saturday
in July, I made every effort possible to catch whatever portions of
the Live Aid concert broadcast I could manage. Simultaneously
telecast around the world, the performance started at seven o’clock
that morning in London and continued across the Atlantic Ocean,
resuming in Philadelphia that afternoon. I was working the afternoon
shift that day, and tuned in the moment I awoke that morning. By mid
afternoon upon arriving at The Eaton Centre, I promptly made my way
upstairs and placed myself in front of the audience watching the
screens at Music World. After all, it was a good excuse to perform
some crowd control duties. This was one of the most spectacular
concert events ever, orchestrated by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure as a
relief effort to raise funds for the famine in Ethiopia, following
the tremendous success of the Band Aid performance the previous
Christmas. Bowie, Queen, Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney, U2,
Duran Duran and the Boomtown Rats did live performances on stage.
Phil Collins played in London during the morning, and then flew the
Concorde to New York in order to perform a second set in Philadelphia
in the afternoon. I would have given anything to fly on the Concorde
to have taken in the performance in London that day, but would have
to settle for watching the performances on a television screen. That
was a day indeed, and one that ended on a good note. That night I
returned home, put the headphones on and played back the songs on the
stereo which I’d missed during the day due to the barrage of
commercial breaks throughout the televised performances. That was my
own personal concert, an episode which lasted well into the night. I
had several more days to work the afternoon shift before I would be
able to look forward to having a day or two off the clock, but on
that day little else seemed more important than the music.
Wednesday, July 17,
I should have answered
my telephone that afternoon. I was alone at home in my one bedroom
apartment located on the ninth floor of the tall, cylindrical tower
which anchored the corner of Church and Alexander Streets downtown.
Our household had decided several months back not to renew our lease
on the house we’d shared on Durie Street just north of the Bloor
West Village strip for the past two years. I sincerely believed our
landlord had experienced a sense of relief at hearing our decision to
move on. For a group of single young men, we had been relatively
good tenants despite that morning when Victor had taken it upon
himself to do away with the coach lamp. We’d had a good two years
at that house and would lament on leaving it behind, but our lives
had started to evolve and the members of our group were finally
parting to head off in different directions. It was time to say
goodbye to the safety of the nest to make our way out into the world
where career obligations and other responsibilities would take
precedence over our perceived carefree lifestyles. Carefree was far
from the truth, but we were growing up.
Kevin had moved into a
new cooperative building on the easterly fringes of the downtown
core, having entered the computer field as expected. Gord, our
in-house photographer and the group’s chronologic record keeper,
had found stability working for the post office and was the first to
become a homeowner with the purchase of a condominium out in the
suburbs; it wouldn’t be too long before he married and would have a
son. Vince had found his true love at one of the infamous parties
we’d thrown at the house on Durie Street would move on. Sean,
while no longer a housemate but being more of one of those visitors
in residence, had also found his soul mate at one of those parties
and would be first among us to marry. Meeting a pretty girl and
consuming far too much Jim Beam, he made use of one of the upstairs
bedrooms for a quick tryst and declared he was in love. Upon getting
married, he would promptly disappear and distance himself as far away
from the group as possible, one of those characters who would dash
down the aisle pushing his grocery cart to hide around the corner if
he saw you coming.
I couldn’t make any
excuses for myself. I’d shrugged off any self-perceived notion
that I was somehow damaged goods, but in frustration realized at that
point in my life I was simply better off alone. Fighting to keep
some balance, I had become aware that it became increasingly
difficult to interact in social settings away from the mall and
combined with the fact I’d lost interest in almost everything else
around me, I was having a difficult time. But I was not the only
mall walker who felt this way. The once therapeutic daily sessions
at Pete & Marty’s where we drew on each other for moral support
had slowly degenerated into little more than a means to drown out and
put an end to each day. Our sounding board now echoed sheer
frustration with no resolve which only served to make matters worse.
The shoulders of support we all once shared had been worn out.
I found myself exactly
where I believed I belonged, nine stories above the notorious corner
of Church and Wellesley Streets that never slept, frequented by
prostitutes and drug addicts. But that area was quickly undergoing a
genderfication of sorts, evolving into trendy coffee shops and the
new district which served as the gathering place for the city’s gay
population. I didn’t have to exert any effort to avoid both those
groups, they steered clear of me as if I was carrying the plague.
They could see trouble coming from a mile away. I was safe upstairs
though, and from my balcony up in the circular apartment building
nicknamed, appropriately for the area, the phallic tower I could
watch everything which took place on that corner below. It was all
too familiar to me, almost as if life in the city now went
twenty-fours a day without rest.
I had all that I needed
downstairs, a Pizza Nova location with a nearby Brewer’s Retail
outlet and couldn’t be happier. Or so I’d allow myself to
believe. But it was convenient; I could walk to The Eaton Centre
within fifteen minutes. Oh, what a find!
On that Wednesday I had
a scheduled mid-week break from the mall, a day off. Stepping out at
noon, rarely going out for any full-fledged grocery shopping but
rather walking around the corner and coming home with the ever
essential ‘two-four’ case of Molson Export and a pizza I settled
myself in for the afternoon. With my headphones on I listened to
music on the stereo, my musical tastes had transposed from the pop
sounds of A Flock of Seagulls to the dark overtones of Bauhaus. Bela
Lugosi was indeed dead.
White on white
translucent black capes
Back on the rack
Bela Lugosi's dead
bats have left the bell tower
The victims have been bled
velvet lines the black box
Bela Lugosi's dead
brides file past his tomb
Strewn with time's dead flowers
in deathly bloom
Alone in a darkened room
(Bauhaus, “Bela Logosi’s Dead”)
Despite hearing the
telephone ringing on several occasions in the background I chose to
ignore it, not in the mood to speak with anyone that day. Not having
an answering machine, I surmised should it be something important
that they’d call back but the telephone never rang following that
series of calls. When the beer was exhausted, so was I.
Mama, life has just
But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away.
The following day I
arrived early for my scheduled afternoon shift at The Eaton Centre.
That Thursday was our bi-weekly pay day, and my first priority was to
collect my wages and deposit the cheque into the Green Machine as
soon as possible. The security office was abuzz with activity and
crowded with people I didn’t recognize. Assuming we’d just had a
major event take place and without paying attention I casually walked
straight through the office without a sideways glance directly to our
locker room located at the back of that series of rooms. The
interesting thing to note at this point was that, walking through the
office with an attitude that I belonged there, not one person milling
about within those crowded offices stopped me.
Making my way down the
hallway leading back into the locker room, I reached my locker where
I dialed my combination and opened the door. At that point someone
tapped my shoulder from behind and that was when reality quickly
caught up with me. Yet another sucker punch was about to knock me
off my feet.
Cadillac Fairview had
replaced the mall walkers with a contracted security company the
afternoon before, hence the calls colleagues had made in an attempt
to reach me.
I sat down with the new
Director of Security, a senior officer with a company named Intercon
Security named Lou, in the former Director’s office. In an effort
to provide an easy transition and avoid any embarrassment, The Eaton
Centre had made arrangements to have most of the mall officers
transferred into other positions with this new company, keeping the
same higher than average wages and seniority. Most of the members
within the department accepted the deal, while the more brutish crew
of street fighters within those ranks were shown the door. This was
more than acceptable to me. Within the upcoming months I would be
taking my first steps down a new career path and overseeing my first
building. Eventually I would manage million square foot facilities
rivaling those where I had first picked up on the essential footnotes
behind building operations.
However, that evening
immediately following the announcement of the transition, those
street fighters were determined not to go easily, presenting a show
of kick boxing force challenging members of the new security officers
out in the mall, but this newly designated team of mall walkers had
been prepared and expected some trouble for they had brought in their
Perhaps I was never
meant to pick up the telephone that afternoon.
I shook hands with the
newly appointed Director, wished him all the best and was on my way.
Still in a state of moderate shock, I made a number of telephone
calls to friends from the public telephones out in the mall, leaving
short messages before continuing on to the only location I could
think of going. Thankfully, I had not been escorted off the premises
as I would’ve expected the normal procedure to be in these
Stepping into Pete &
Marty’s, I was not surprised to find about fifteen of my former
colleagues seated around the bar. It was the typical spot to find
most of the group each second Thursday afternoon. Same as the
proverbial episode of having lemmings stepping off that cliff edge,
this event was now instinctive and ingrained behaviour on our part.
This would be the last
time such a gathering would come together between the members of this
outfit. My tall glass of beer had been placed down in front of me
before I could ask, everyone pretending all was normal and as it
should be. Perhaps it was.
The shock quickly
subsided, and I suddenly became overwhelmed with a wave of pure
relief. It was best equated to a feeling of happiness, one I hadn’t
experienced in some time that overtook me as I sat there.
I had been set free,
the strangling hold Life in the City had placed around me broken like
a rusted chain.
No one at the bar
mentioned The Director. No one cared what had happened to him, the
sideshow was now over, and the circus had left town.
There was no need to
close the bar that day. The last of the original mall walkers called
it an early night. There was the shaking of hands and warm embraces,
farewells and best wishes expressed amongst all present and a final
toast to a job well done. We parted company, each vowing to stay in
touch but knowing in all of our hearts that as we departed on our
separate paths most would never cross again. The sun was still
shining as I made my way back to the apartment, taking one final walk
up Yonge Street from The Eaton Centre. I had been given a new start
and a chance to build a new opportunity for myself
Scott would be the only
person among that group of thirty-five or so former mall walkers who
I would continue to call as my friend, and we remained in contact for
the next dozen years or so before I moved to Michigan where I would
marry and pursue a successful career as property manager over a
number of major buildings.
Scott would find a new
home at the Sheraton Centre, their classic trench coat wearing house
detective. The persona he wore of the character John Wayne would
make way for one more in line with that of Humphrey Bogart. I have
not spoken with him over the past decade, having lost touch with him
eventually following my move down to Michigan, and often wonder what
had become of my friend from those days back at The Eaton Centre.
One sad postscript to
my story would be the news that Ready Records had closed its doors.
This independent and small but influential record label had initially
signed a number of new local bands from The Spoons to Blue Peter and
it was a sad day when the company folded. Unlike my experience as
part of Life in the City which had meandered for much too long, Ready
Records had met its demise far too early. This had been the music of
my life during these past few years and had played a large part in
giving me some happy moments and the songs of which many I could sing
the lyrics aloud to. I would find it ironic somehow that the period
I had spent at The Eaton Centre would mirror the same period, 1979
through 1985, during which Ready Records had its successful run. The
day the music died so ended my Life in the City. There was no cosmic
significance to that analogy, only a sad coincidence. But the music
scene overall was changing, for good or bad was yet to be determined.
Music videos once depicting simply studio or stage performances of
the artist’s song were themselves becoming an art form. A-ha’s
“Take on Me” becoming the first literal video, combining live
action with animation as a graphic novel telling a story. At least I
had believed it to be a brilliant concept, mesmerized the first time
the pipe wrench fight scene was broadcast on television. The story
had a happy ending, as would mine or so I wanted to believe.
So needless to
I’m odds and ends
I’ll be stumbling away
learning that life is OK
Say after me
It’s no better to be
safe than sorry
(A-ha, “Take on Me”)
But for now I had
several years of my life to catch up on and give some serious thought
to moving forward. I could say that the events over those years
didn’t matter and try to shrug them off, but that just won’t be
correct. The sad truth was that everything had happened as described
and would affect all of us who had worked there for the rest of our
lives. There would be no confessional to attend or any priest to
give us absolution. I had a lot to think about, but for now I could
give it a day or two’s rest and spend some moments not so much in
reflection but taking in the relief and some peace of mind. As the
sun finally made its way below the city skyline, I felt relaxed for
the first time in many months, a great burden having been lifted off
me. I wasn’t worried over what the next day would bring and where
I would find myself working; those concerns were issues I would face
the next day. Tonight, that sun was setting on Life in the City.
The following day Kevin
would show up at my door, as he always did when I’d been in
trouble, concerned over my wellbeing after listening to my initial
message from the day before. A Flock of Seagulls was back on the
turntable, with “I Ran” being heard emanating out of my apartment
from down the hall as he had approached.
And I ran, I ran so
I just ran, I ran all night and day
I couldn’t get
(A Flock of Seagulls, “I Ran”)
I had tried to run from
Life in the City, but in the end realized I couldn’t get away. Now
I would have to learn how to live with what had happened there and
Kevin was relieved to
find me in better spirits than I’d been at the time I had left that
first message. On that afternoon he was in the company of his
companion Kathleen, and I felt myself overcome with heartfelt
appreciation at seeing the two of them at my door and welcomed them
inside. Their visit meant the world to me at that moment.
Our group of friends
would carry on I realized, reassurance at seeing them giving me a
sense of relief and security.
I had made the journey
from innocence to knowledge over these past five or six years,
growing from a naïve post adolescent youth into a young man and
learning the ways of the world in a hard way. Taking everything I’d
encountered and hopefully learned from those experiences, together
with whatever poor choices in judgment I’d made along the way.
More important, the people around me who I called friends, I could
only hope that they would forgive any transgressions they may have
witnessed and the endless melodrama I had put them through, one
episode after another. Perhaps it would be best if everyone
eventually forgot altogether, but then those lessons would be lost
like skeletons buried in my closet waiting to surface. They would
forgive me for they were my friends. Friends, together with family,
were the people you found at home, and to paraphrase a classic quote
from Robert Frost, “Home is the place where, when you have to go
there, they have to take you in”.
That was what good
friends were for, and the important role each had played as my Life
in the City had unfolded was forever chiseled in my memory and I
would cherish those relationships for years to come, never to take
them for granted again.
I was alright,
acknowledging Kevin’s concerns over my state of mind. The circle
had been broken and I had my life returned to me. My experiences had
taught me more than I had ever wanted to know. No longer simply just
a young man lost in the city, I had finally grown up and it was
necessary for me to move on. I had paid a significant price for the
lessons I’d learned, but I was now free or so I believed.
“Don’t panic,” I
let him know, echoing that signature line from The Hitchhikers Guide
to the Galaxy. I knew what I needed to do and had decided it was
time to leave Life in the City behind and move forward, never to look
back on the sad chapters of these past few years. Tomorrow would
bring a new day.
As the mall walkers,
the unsung heroes who had fought to preserve Life in the City, were
themselves marched out the door as outcasts, The Eaton Centre
unveiled not only a new logo but a brand-new slogan as well.
The Eaton Centre was
now ‘The Great Indoors’.
Life in the City as I’d
known it was gone forever.
So would begin my new
story of life in the city.