Next excerpt from The Lies Have It (picks up where the last one left off...)
Sunday, 4:29 pm
Back at Dad’s house, I started digging through my closet. No one could ever accuse me of looking like a suburban middle class parent, but I didn’t exactly blend in with the chip-on-their-shoulder teen set either. I knew no one would talk to me if I looked like a square, so I dug through some of the clothes from my rocker chick band days. A faded and frayed, ratty old pair of black jeans - held together by little more than a hope and a prayer - looked anti-establishment enough for the job. A ragged Ramones T-shirt and no bra seemed to fit the bill, complemented by a battered old pair of Doc Martens boots that were out of style enough to be retro. I swapped my blue leather purse for a tan canvas US Army Surplus bag with a Union Jack patch sewn onto it, and mussed my hair a bit. I washed off my usually subtle make-up and then smudged a lot of black eyeliner around my eyes and headed downtown to pretend to be a cool older chick who belonged on the scene. Sort of.
I got off the 505 streetcar just south of the Toronto Coach Terminal. A handful of ragamuffins in dirty clothes with safety pins poking through every facial orifice were panhandling a block from the bus station. They had a scrawny, mangy husky with them. The dog look marginally cleaner than the five teens, but that’s only because he could lick himself. Clearly these losers were too apathetic to shower even once a week.
“It’s not much, but I’ll give you ten bucks if you answer a couple of questions for me.”
A punk dude with dirty blond hair answered, “Ten bucks each?”
“Hell, no. How about twenty for the group? You can get Rover there some dog biscuits. He looks hungry.”
“Anyone seen this girl? Name’s Macy. She’s sixteen, came here about a month ago. From Peterborough.” I passed around the few snapshots Mom and Pop had given me.
“I seen her around the Eaton Centre coupla times,” Dirty Blond said.
“Know where I can find her?” I asked.
“Does she have a usual hangout? A usual crowd?”
“Dunno,” they mumbled in unison.
“I think I seen her hanging with a bunch of cutters,” said a girl with torn fishnet stockings and lime green streaks in her platinum hair. “They usually chill somewhere around Kensington Market,”
“Thanks a bunch.” I handed the girl two tens and started walking towards the market.
Describing Kensington Market is a pretty tall order. First of all, it’s not a market per se, but a neighbourhood in downtown Toronto, loosely bordered by Spadina to the east, Bellevue to the west, College Street to the north and Dundas to the south. Yeah, the druggies and the skinheads hang out here, but to leave the description at that would do the neighbourhood a disservice. It’s like the area has a split personality and alternate versions of itself appear throughout the day. Buskers, panhandlers and artists are generally here around the clock. Ditto a few neighbourhood drunks. However, the area has some super-cool funky shopping, especially when it comes to vintage clothing and army surplus. The presence of these stores is no doubt a response to the presence of aging hippies and artists. The street life in Kensington has changed little over the years. The same few buskers are always on the same old corners, strumming acoustic guitars and hoping the open guitar case would fill with people’s spare change. As for the disaffected Gen-X layabouts, well, they’re interchangeable with new teens from one year to the next. They all have the exact same ways of being non-conformist, anti-establishment rebels.
The first teens I talked to were sitting on the steps of a vacant storefront. A guy and a girl, both about seventeen, each appeared malnourished and dirty. The guy had a newish looking tattoo around his neck. It was supposed to be barbed wire or thorns or something, but the amateur job looked more like a string of the letter “C” in Old English font. The tattoo itself was puffy and red, and I’d wager that within a day or two, buddy would be in need of penicillin for the pus about to ooze out of his newly inked neck.
“Hey, wassup?” I asked, trying to sound casual.
“Yo,” answered Ink.
“Know many of the people who hang here?”
“Why ya asking?” He sort of thrust his chin out when he answered. His twiglike girlfriend stared blankly at me.
“I’m looking for my little sister. Her name’s Macy.” I passed them the photo. “Seen her around?”
“Maybe,” Ink said. The Twig just shook her head. Twiggy had a bunch on short scars on the inside of her forearms. It was plain to see she was into self-mutilation. Each scar was about an inch wide, and they ran perpendicular to her veins, up and down the length of her arms, from wrist to elbow. God, I hoped Macy wasn’t into self-inflicted pain, although the kids by the bus station had alluded to Macy hanging out with a bunch of cutters. This didn’t bode well.
“You see, our mom was in a car wreck. She might die any day now. Macy’s been on a tear for a couple weeks. She doesn’t even know about the accident.”
“Mighta seen her a while ago, but I dunno. The last few days was a blur.” His girlfriend giggled a bit.
“If you see her, gimme a call.” I gave them a piece of paper with my cell number on it. I had no illusions they’d see Macy, nor did I think they’d put my number in a safe place where they wouldn’t lose it, but this is my job. It just takes one person out of a string of dead-ends to help me crack a case. Maybe Ink and Twiggy would be the ones. And maybe leprechauns are real. After I gave them my cell number, I thought fleetingly about Ian and his BlackBerry. I thought it was odd that he hadn’t yet returned my call. I made a mental note to try calling him again later.
One great thing about Kensington is the food. Over the years, Kensington market has been populated by various groups of New Canadians: Eastern Europeans at the turn of the century, Portuguese in the 1950s, Jamaicans in the seventies, and more recently Latinos from Central and South America. You can get wonderful empanadas and gorditas on one block, on another you can stock up on goat roti, around the corner you can find an unending selection of cheeses that’ll knock your socks off, and there are a number of Asian grocers with a wide array of unidentifiable legumes, fungi, and dried shellfish. The neighbourhood smells wonderful and repugnant all at once. This is the Kensington Market suburbanites visit on a casual, lazy Saturday, or where tourists – consulting dog-eared copies of Lonely Planet travel guides – come to take in a heady dose of multiculturalism.
Kensington Market is also an edgy urban enclave, long popular with counterculture groups, from Rastas to punk rockers to artists. I’ve had my share of hanging in Kensington Market over the years, but it was usually related to something from my band days. Some of my first gigs when I was playing the Toronto music scene were at Graffiti’s, a bar that paid so very little that any starving new garage band who wanted to play there could. As I poked in and out of storefronts and taverns, I recognized more than a few nameless faces, pickled barflies who never seem to leave their usual barstools. I recognized a white-haired Irish man who had once been one of the best Flamenco guitar players in Canada. For the last decade or so, ever since he lost his wife to lung cancer, he’s been trying to slowly kill himself with copious amounts of whiskey and his own three-pack-a-day nicotine habit. The woman a few stools over from him reportedly had once been a wildly popular call girl. She now seemed threadbare all over, from her clothes to her hair to her teeth. But if you checked her out with half-closed eyes, and let your imagination fill in a few blanks, you could see that she had once been very pretty. The word on the street was that she was now on welfare and was HIV positive.
A young girl with black stringy hair was walking just ahead of me. I knew the odds were slim, but I picked up my pace to catch up with her.
“Hey Macy,” I said, tapping her on the shoulder.
“Huh?” The girl jumped a bit.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you. Thought you were someone else.” The girl’s face was rather cherubic, despite the blood-red lipstick and slashes of black eyeliner. Anyone with naturally chubby cheeks would never be convincing as a Goth. “From behind, you resembled the person I’m trying to find.” I shoved Macy’s picture in front o her.
“That doesn’t look like me.”
“I know, I said from behind. Same height, same hair. Any chance you’ve seen her?”
“Nope.” And with that, Cherub walked away.
As an older, inner-city neighbourhood - established back in the days when Toronto had a population in the low thousands - Kensington Market remains rather small and claustrophobic. I guess, back in those horse-and-buggy days of yesteryear, no one had planned ahead to make Kensington vehicle friendly. Finding a parking spot around here is a bitch, but then, only an idiot would choose to drive here. The narrow, one way streets are hellish for drivers to navigate, but with the crowds and congestion, cars can rarely move at much more than fifteen or twenty kilometres an hour, so pedestrians are fearless about zigzagging across the street mid-block. It could even be argued that cyclists pose a greater danger to walkers than cars do, given that many bikers ignore stop signs, or ride the wrong way on Kensington’s one-way streets. I narrowly escaped being plastered to the road by a stoned slacker on a pimped-out BMX.
“Whoaaa, sorry lady,” he intoned in a sleepy voice, as I jumped back from the curb.
I walked to the next block and waited for the light to change, but I needn’t have bothered. There was absolutely no vehicular traffic in Kensington Market today. One of the cool things about Kensington is that on the last Sunday of every month – in other words, today – the neighboured is a car-free zone. Pedestrian Sundays in the Market are wonderfully busy and laid-back. I traipsed around a while longer, and talked with another dozen teens or so. I got a lot of shrugs, was told to fuck off twice, and one guy asked me if I wanted to do a few hits with him. He failed to specify hits of what, and I was afraid to ask.
All in a day’s work. I was tired and hungry, so I decided my brother would love to treat me to dinner.