Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Rabble of Downtown Toronto

by Jason Kieffer

Every once in a while, you come across a book or film, with a central concept that you immediately wish you'd been the one to think of, followed closely by wondering why no one else had ever done it before. Jason Kieffer's field guide to Toronto street people is exactly that project. When I saw it advertised on The Beguiling's website, I knew I had to buy it.

The concept of this book is sound. Each double-page spread features a different individual, with a close-up illustration of their face and a map demarkating their usual territory make up the first page, while the second has a full-body illustration, annotated by little arrows pointing out unique features of the individual. Below that are notes as to their behaviour patterns, or history, if it is known.

Upon getting the book, I went through a few different reactions. At first, I thought it was funny in a juvenile, immature sort of way. Then, I started to fear that the book was pretty mean-spirited, pointing fun at the people within it and mocking their sad conditions. As I read through it though, I began to see that Kieffer was allowing his subjects to be somewhat 'in' on the joke, as his affection for them began to show through. I do think that a more responsible editing job should have removed entries like 'Retarded Crackhead', and instead focused the book on the more recognizable eccentrics of the city, like Zanta.

When reading a book like this, it's impossible to not make up your own list of characters you would include. While they are both dead now, I kept hoping to see Ben Kerr (the guy who used to sing on the corner of Yonge and Bloor and who ran for mayor many times) or Crad Kilodney (the author who used to sell his self-published books of short stories)(EDIT: I've just learned that Kilodney is not dead, he's just on the internet). I also expected to see the guy who hangs out in front of the entrance to the parking garage under Nathan Phillips Square with a rat or five hanging out on his shoulders and arms.

The book is by no means complete, and does not add anything of merit to any learned discussion of issues like homelessness, drug addiction, or mental health on the streets of Toronto, but it did make me smile a few times, and sadly may be the only lasting testament to the existence of many of these individuals. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that.


Anonymous said...

If Crad Kilodny is dead, then who the heck is at counting votes for Canadian Dickhead of the Year? Omg! Are you telling me I've been exchanging emails with the Ghost of Crad?!?!

thingslikei said...

I swear I heard that Kilodney was dead. It makes me quite happy to learn that he's still around, and apparently as recalcitrant as ever. Thanks for the correction!