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Curious Contrasts

Linda Kent

comparing and contrasting are activities for the mind, - brainwork! They are a kind of automatic enterprise in which everyone is involved. People, places, and principles, all are scrutinized for significance and meaning. Evidently this probing initiative is non-stop. Individuals use it continuously to pinpoint their own niche in society.

On the weekend I too got caught up in this activity an unusual process of speculation. Saturday was to be our evening of relaxation. It was a warm mellow night. All seemed well with the world as we took a leisurely drive through North York.

It was always a treat touring multi-million dollar mansions on The Bridal Path. Amazing architectural wonders and discreet Tudor style homes were anchored on large, lavish lots. Splendid trees, willows, maples, and evergreens hugged the properties and hung over the boulevards.

A short jaunt across Lawrence Avenue brought us to L'Europe; a cozy eating place famous for it's schnitzel. Dinner was definitely delectable, fine wine, gourmet foods and the reflections of romantic candle light, who could ask for more?

Afterwards we agreed on walking for exercise and to enhance digestion. Yonge Street, north of Lawrence had wonderful shopping possibilities. Traffic and pedestrians were moving at an easy pace, so we parked beside Stephenson's Rent All and began our stroll.

Slowly we sauntered south on Yonge for several blocks. Cobblestone walkways, wrought iron benches and strategically placed planters provided a pleasing atmosphere. People were mingling at ease in these handsome surroundings. Toned and tanned they alighted from their luxury cars. Dressed in Nike and Eddie Bauer sports gear, they hustled around select shops. Those outside tapped on window displays, pointing towards precious diamonds, Rolex watches and other tempting, teasing treasures.

These patrons oozed with prestige and pedigree. Wardrobe, mannerisms, even fragrances, subtly revealed their special status. Goods sold here were inticing. Designer clothes, rare books and exotic plants, were packaged and attractively marketed for this elite crowd.

At Chapters bookstore, intellectual trendsetters were also in the majority. Snuggled in soft velvety recliners, they slurped and sucked back creamy smooth Lattes.

Just when our interest and intrigue increased, we were interrupted with an abrupt weather change. Conditions turned nasty. An unusual dust storm snarled and hissed as it whipped and ripped through the region.

Loose earth, soil and other indescribable substances pursued us like mini relentless cyclones. Cinders, sand and mixed debris shattered several windows and swallowed up the boulevards.

Grains of solid grit burned as they bit into that delicate white tissue around our eyes. We couldn't see! Dust particles as invisible as miniature mites clogged our throats. Our vocal chords seized up. We couldn't speak!

Several blocks south of Lawrence we found refuge in a corner coffee shop. We spruced up, ordered a warm cup of coffee, then settled in at the table next to the corner window to gaze.

Broken bits of bottles, defaced buildings, and other discarded scraps of junk, left this area in shambles. Had we unwittingly entered a battle zone without knowing it?

Many poor, pitiful transients drifted aimlessly while pestering others for cigarettes and coffee money. Basic needs and awful addictions drove them through alleyways scavenging garbage pails for bread, booze and cigarette butts.

Across the road there was a beat up old brown, bench. Shabby and secluded, it stood just outside the subway exit.

Hmm, how convenient I thought, with a typical middle class mindset.

Anyone taking up occupancy here would have it made! Bedroom, living room and den all located on a seven-foot beat-up old brown bench. Food? Easy! Tim Horton's across the road. Entertainment? No problem! Street drama unfolding around the clock. Transportation? Simple! Subway cars downstairs.

Before long strange human activity was busy in that puny place. An elderly street character claimed the old beat up brown bench for his home. At first sight he looked peculiar and had many eccentric mannerisms. He was seedy and dirty - dressed in grubby jeans, a torn T-shirt and a dark jacket soaked with saliva and streaked black with sticky coffee stains.

Anyone could see the guy was sickly. Obviously, lack of sleep, food and proper sanitation were responsible for his poor health. Besides that, his worried, wrinkled, wizened up old face hinted of his reckless past. Small, and extremely thin he maneuvered slowly with painful sliding steps around his shabby alcove.

Strange uncontrolled gestures and verbal intonations made us wonder about his mental stability. He rocked his toothless, bald, head nervously from shoulder to shoulder. Arms and fists flailed constantly as if to beat disturbing demons from his bony back. Intermittent throaty squeals warned others to keep their distance and away from his space.

Yes, the evening was full of sensitive contrasts! Hopeless poverty, splendid wealth, and timeless characters, we compared them all! However, the gulf between the beautiful people and the man on the old beat up brown bench was disturbing. Such extravagance. Such depravation. When will it end?

Linda Kent is a teacher and a consultant. She also writes for a community paper in Toronto.

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