Sunday, August 19, 2007

MY GLASS EYE

Ah Toronto.



It’s a great IDEA for a city, but I swear if one more shambling, foul smelling street person wanders up to me on the sidewalk and inquires as to my financial liquidity, I am going to get into a cab, head to the airport and take the next flight back home to Palm Springs.



It’s not that I mind being in strange cities. Heaven knows, fair reader, I have spent most of my adult life enjoying martinis of varying qualities in hotel bars dotted across the globe. From Seine-side Parisian boites to all night shanty pubs in South Africa and all points in between, if I haven’t learned to enjoy the torturous privileges of being a world traveler by now, I probably never will. Frankly, I find it very difficult to trust ANYONE who hasn’t awakened with a hangover in a country different from the one where they started drinking the night before.

Still, even with all of my globetrotting, and my seemingly effortless ability to make myself at home wherever I go – or, more to the point, to force “wherever I go” to become “home” -- the city in which I’m currently hanging my Prada is proving a somewhat harder nut to crack.

Strange, really, given that Toronto is after all the place where I first began what some of the kinder critics have referred to as my “wasted career”. But instead of the warm, fuzzy sense of familiarity one would expect when one has returned to the land of one’s birth, I’ve been getting nothing but stomach cramps.

Now I should hasten to add it’s not the production I’m working on that's making me nauseous this time; unlike my last Canadian location debacle - A Dennis the Menace Christmas, filmed in Montreal last winter, which many of you have read about I’m sure - this movie, a romantic comedy, is being run like a well oiled prostitute. The Executive Producer, an adorable, chain-eating powerhouse, is brash, mercurial and utterly brilliant –



-- in other words, a perfect fit for yours truly.



The Screenplay is by a relative newcomer, the first scribe I’ve worked with in quite some time who didn’t make me wish ALL writers were like Shakespeare – as in DEAD for 200 years. And to top it all off, the cast are all friends of mine including the glamorous Andrea Roth –



the dashing Sebastian Spence –



the urbane Brandon Firla –



and our special guest star is the incomparable Delta Burke.



In other words, the only way things could be better is if I had the Florida State College Men's Swim Team doing a cameo.



But there’s just something about being back in this city that gives me the creeps. Every time I step out of my exquisite little boutique hotel and onto the phlegm spattered pavement, I immediately feel as if I'm covered in bacteria, and all I want to do is run back to my room and scrub myself until I'm Howard Hughes.

“Hogtown” – to use its colorful nickname - used to be an elegant place in the Miami Vice era, with swanky nightspots and a very healthy artistic community. However since the halcyon days of the late 1980’s, it appears things have taken a turn for the worst. Perhaps it was SARS, or the fear of another 9/11, or maybe it’s simply the fact that the American dollar has plummeted to the point where Toronto just isn’t much of a bargain anymore and so it faces the problem that all old whores have – if your business is solely based on a low price, eventually you end up giving it away for free.

I’ve always prided myself in walking while I’m in a city, to get the “feeling” of a place while I’m working there. But in this case, just taking in the evening air can be a life-threatening proposition as a night time stroll in even the chic-est neighborhood involves dodging literally DOZENS of beggars, lurching out of the shadows like extras from a George Romero movie and demanding to know if I have any spare change!



First of all, I was taught it isn’t polite to discuss money, certainly not with complete – and unwashed – strangers. And secondly, it must have been a very long time since these dreadful people dined in one of Toronto’s overpriced restaurants because they obviously have no idea how expensive dinner for two with cocktails and wine can be. After shelling out the equivalent of the gross national product of Sweden for a mediocre chateau briande and a bottle of domestic wine, I am hardly in the mood to support some gutter dweller’s crack habit!

Granted we have street trash in Los Angeles as well, but at least ours have the decency to wish you a Nice Day when you refuse to shell out.



If you ignore them here in Toronto, it seems they feel quite free to let loose with a profanity laced tirade regarding your lineage, your sexual preferences and your possible activities later that evening.

Or worse.

In fact, just last week, a tourist was actually stabbed to death by a pack of these loathsome creatures, much to the chagrin of the local city fathers.



Naturally the same old left wing platitudes were rolled out about the shame of a country where the homeless are forced to beg for scraps – and apparently switchblade knives – in order to survive. But this time it seems those homilies are falling on deaf ears, and perhaps people in Toronto – in general perhaps – are tiring of common thieves and criminals -



-- running rampant on their streets under the guise of “the poor”.

I have to admit however I was rather impressed by the pluck of one marginally obese young lady I saw working a street corner yesterday. She was playing a “recorder” – a low-rent kind of flute which, next to the ukulele is truly Satan’s own musical instrument - and while she couldn’t have been more than five feet tall, her dark glasses, white cane, and Sequoia-like circumference cut a truly striking figure amongst the midday luncheon crowd.

Even more engaging was the sign she had put up next to her, drawn one assumes by a friend who could actually see, and it read: “I am NOT a panhandler. I am trying to raise money for My Glass Eye.”

Well, needless to say this intrigued me. In a country which routinely brags about its socialized health care, and where every citizen has access to both free medical treatment AND free prescription drugs, it puzzled me that this young lady couldn’t just dash over to, say, Eyeballs R Us, get herself a free orb and pop it right in. So I sidled up beside her, introduced myself by dropping several dollars worth of loose change into her bucket, and asked why she needed money for something that was supposed to be free.

“They won’t give me a glass eye,” she said. “They just wanted to sew it shut and make me wear an eye patch. But I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with an eye patch. I want my glass eye.”

And then, without another word, she returned to her recorder, launching into a half-hearted rendition of “Freres Jacques”. I dropped another two dollar coin into her bucket and headed down the street, but I didn’t make it further than the next corner before I was accosted by yet another beggar, this one a strapping twenty-something young man, shirtless, tanned, and wearing jeans which couldn’t have cost less than 200 dollars. With his day old beard stubble and piercing green eyes, he looked like a Dolce Gabbana model, but before I could suggest he make an appointment with Elite, he growled in a thick, French Canadian accent: “You give me a dollar?”

“I will not,” I replied, trying not to stare at his incredibly well defined abdominal muscles and wondering just exactly how he could afford a personal trainer on what was clearly a fixed income.

“You give her money,” he said with the usual French indifference to tense, pointing at the Future Pirate playing the recorder a few yards away.

“Yes,” I said, “but she needs a glass eye. If you go and poke your eye out, perhaps I will give you ten dollars as well, but in the meantime you are getting nothing.” I turned and walked away as he shouted Franco-Obscenities at me, much to the amusement of the other passersby, and as I retreated to my hotel, and sank into the comfortable martini awaiting me at the bar, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t actually SEEN the young blind lady’s supposedly empty eye socket.

What if she wasn’t missing her eye? What if the whole thing had been a scam and I had been “had” after all?

I was tempted to return to her corner, demand some proof and, should she in fact prove not to be uni-ocular at all, take my money back and give it to the hot boy with the six pack.

But I decided just to let it go; she might have been blind but she still had a good hundred pounds on me, and while a recorder isn’t generally considered a deadly weapon, with four weeks to go before shooting begins I think I’d rather be safe than sorry.