I had just dropped off my monthly payment at the Bell Canada shop on the third floor of the Bayshore Shopping Centre. I'd had to do some shopping anyhow, and I'd just saved myself the cost of a 50-cent stamp, and the paper it was printed on. Greenpeace would be proud of me. Earlier that morning I'd had my annual check-up.My doctor had indicated that my overall cholesterol level was pretty good for a man my age, but my LDL was a bit high. It was for that reason that I reluctantly passed up my usual stop at the New York Fries, and headed toward the other side of the food court to check out the alternatives, to which I hadn't paid any attention in the past. As I passed by a bench outside the food court proper, I noticed a man with a bandaged head, and a black eye that spilled out from behind a pair of sunglasses. At the same moment that I saw him, he stuck out his arm and grabbed me by the sleeve of my jacket.
He said: "Don't you recognize me?"
I said: "My God, it's you, Jack! What happened to you."
Jack said: "I don't want to talk about it." Which meant, of course, that he would, sooner or later. I sat down beside him. Together we looked at the mass of people in front of us -- the entire food court occupied -- not an empty seat anywhere -- by masticating humanity.
"Look at them," said Jack. "Notice how hardly anybody is talking. They're all staring in front of them, chewing, chewing, chewing. They look like zombies." I didn't think they looked all that bad, just occupied, but there's no point trying to stop Jack when he starts off on a rant.
"Jeez, I've a good mind to yell 'FIRE' just to see some action."
Seeing that I was about to make an objection, he cut me off.
"I always have the urge to yell something when I see people sitting like that, staring vacantly in front of them. And, no," he said, noticing my disquiet, "it's not Tourette's syndrome."
"Last week," he continued, "I was sitting on the # 7 bus going down Bank street. It was packed. And frowsty on account of the wet winter clothing and the heat of all those bodies. Nobody talking, of course. A lot of people chewing gum, like cows chewing their cud. Everybody staring in the distance. I started thinking of all the things I would like to shout out. Things like 'REPENT, THE END OF THE WORLD IS AT HAND', or 'MY GOD YOU'RE AN UGLY BUNCH'. Well, I couldn't work myself up to it."
"Anyhow, pretty soon we approached Sunnyside where I was going to get off to go to the Folklore Centre. It took me a while to push my way through the straphangers in the aisle. There was a bunch of young hoodlums blocking the exit. You know the kind, lots of attitude, rings in their nose, their caps backward, pants with the crotch between their knees. With a low crotch like that they'd never be able to run at any speed.
Maybe that thought is what did it. When I finally got to the stairwell, I had an inspiration: I could safely shout out whatever I wanted, and I'd be out the door before anyone would have the presence of mind to realize what I'd said and come after me."
"So what happened?" I asked.
"Well, I turned to the back of the bus and shouted 'MY GOD YOU PEOPLE LOOK LIKE A BUNCH OF COWS!' and turning to the hoodlums, I yelled 'AND YOU GUYS LOOK AS IF YOU'D SHAT IN YOUR PANTS'. And then I pushed the handle of the door."
I asked: "So what happened?"
Jack said: "Can't you tell? The door wouldn't open."
Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.
Click above to tell a friend about this article.