Another Life in the City
Copyright 2017, Henry Argasinski
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Once More, To My Friends and the City I Left Behind.
This is 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.
This book is a work in progress and will be made available exclusively on Shakespir as chapters are added, without charge as I tell my story.
At the 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.
[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 point.
That left the rest of us.
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, 1985.
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
The bats have left the bell tower
The victims have been bled
Red velvet lines the black box
Bela Lugosi’s dead
The virginal brides file past his tomb
Strewn with time’s dead flowers
Bereft in deathly bloom
Alone in a darkened room
Bela Logosi’s dead]
(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 begun,
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 own thugs.
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 situations.
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 say
I’m odds and ends
I’ll be stumbling away
Slowly 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 far away
I just ran, I ran all night and day
I couldn’t get away]
(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 move on.
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.
Another Life in the City chronicles the life of a young man in the years following his role as a member of the original Mall Walkers of The Eaton Centre as told in the first volume, A Life in the City. His continuing struggles and successes while building his career continue to be confronted with outrageous incidents from corrupt building officials, managing the "ugly sisters" on Toronto's waterfront for the city's most notorious developers and inadvertently being in the center of the infamous "tag and tow" scandal. This book tells his story in the eight years following his departure from The Eaton Centre to his eventual leaving of the city he loved forever. The second in a series, this book is a work in progress and updates will be available as chapters are added.