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Laura, Toucan Editrice

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dirty Girl, Blake Johnson

“I love ya like a rap kid love breaks ...”

Editor’s Note: I think it's important that I interject here to mention something:

This actually happened. I mean it this time.

Carry on.

I lost my headphones the other day.

Two things happen when I lose my headphones. The first is I start to hear things I haven’t heard since the last time I lost my headphones. Rain slapping against the brim of my hat, or wind rustling the collective leaves of an empty park. The soundtrack of life.

The second, often far less desirable, is I start to hear people on the subway. Not to be voyeuristic. Because I don’t have a choice.

I shake the water off my lid as I slide through the doors and settle in right next to them. Empty car, basically. It won't last.

“Next station is Yonge, Yonge station.”

I open my book and read maybe a sentence or two. I don’t expect to get much done. It’s a short trip, after all, and it's the late afternoon.

“Arriving at Yonge, Yonge station.”

The doors crack and the crowd spills through. For a few moments it’s like a ballet. You know how fish who swim in large schools communicate their movements to each other electromagnetically? I think highways and subways are the best evidence of people doing the same thing. How else could we know how to move in rhythm with each other the way that we do?

A young black woman with a baby carriage swiftly moves into the two seats next to me. I begin to stand up, to give her more space, but she motions silently for me to stay seated. Her daughter is goddamn adorable. Little braids in her hair, wearing a smooth pair of Nike Dunks and a mean scowl. I try to make her smile with a goofy face. Not even close.

“Next station is Bay, Bay station.”

The mother goes through the adjustments on the carriage. She distributes a bottle to a side pocket, some mixed nuts in the same one. She takes a small blanket from underneath the seat and wraps it methodically around her daughter’s waist and legs. A bottle of water from a pocket on the far side and a Ziploc bag full of grapes, sliced into three, come out in a single motion. She’s done this before. A practiced professional.

“Arriving at Bay, Bay station.”

The production starts up again, and a pair of hipsters dance into place, landing by the pole right in front of me. Non-prescription glasses, stylish hats, patterned scarves, long-shirts-with-tights ... I don’t feel a full description is necessary. You know. Kids these days.

“Next station is St. George, St. George station.”

The kids, they talk a lot. About anything that comes into their plane of vision, really. I’m sitting in front of one of those PLAN “Because I am a girl...” posters. This catches the blonde kid’s eye. She doesn't quite “get” it, I think.

“Because I am a girl I eat after my father and brothers? Well yeah, so do I, big fucking deal.”

“Hahahaaa yeaaaa obviously, I don’t want to eat as much as my brothers, I’d be massive.”

“Totally, like why even advertise something like that, what are they trying to sell...”

And that’s when the little badass in Nikes goes from a scowl to a scream.

“Arriving at St. George, St. George station.”

The mother snaps into action quickly. The bottle emerges from its side pocket, a rattle from the compartment the blanket was stored in. The badass is not having it. Sometimes, you just need to let it out. I understand this child. Her mother, for the first time, looks lost. Almost frustrated.

“...oh, I guess it’s about like, Africa and stuff. Hahahaa I thought it was for like, fatties or something, that’s hilarious.”

“Well, whatever, that’s really unclear. They should like, really make that more clear.”

“Yeah like, whoever wrote that was obviously like, retarded, or something. Hahaaha it was probably like, a Ryerson student.”

“Hahahahaaaahaa yeah like, definitely, they’re so struggles over there...”

I shift the book on my lap to display the Ryerson library tag as prominently as possible. They don’t notice.

“Next station is Spadina, Spadina station.”

“I wonder what like, classes are like at Ryerson.”

“Ohmygod they’re probably soooo brutal, like when they try to talk and ask questions and stuff...”

“Yeah, like that Eastern European girl yesterday, she was like uhhhhh, uhhhhh, remember?”

“Hahahahaaaa ohmygod yeah...”

The third attempt with the rattle fails, like the first two. Exasperated, the mother returns her tools to their respective homes. She pauses for a second, looking across the train into the window, her own blurry reflection lost in the mass of people. Then, she leans over the front of the carriage, up close to her daughter, so her little hands can almost reach out and grasp her face. And, ever so softly, she starts to sing.

“Girrrlll, you know you better, watch out, some guys, some guys are only, about, that thing, that thing, that thiiinnnggg...”

My mind instantly places her in a distant urban basement I’ve pulled straight out of some blaxploitation flick, as the Miseducation pumps in the background and a sharply dressed intellectual looking brotha wraps his arm around her and preaches about how we have to RESPECT OUR SISTAS…but only for a moment.

“The worst, like absolute worst are the douchebags who don’t even like, ask a question, you know?”

“Yeaaaahhhh, yeah, they’re just like, uh, I want to make like, a philosophical statement ...”

As she leans back, her daughter completely silent, I see a smile across both their faces for the first time.

“Arriving at Spadina, Spadina station.”

I step out of the doors with a slight shiver. Up the stairs and onto the street. The rain is like a kick-kick-snare against the brim of my hat. One of my favourite songs on this record.

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