From a Journal
by Anthony Milne
With cash at a low ebb, I dare to believe that the doctors at Toronto Western will soon remove the cast on my right wrist and I’ll be able to start my job. True, I’m left-handed, but the kind of job I’ve got requires two visibly healthy hands and arms. So this is a time of portent and hope for me.
If my employers have been patient, so have I. I’ve never broken a bone or had to wear a cast before. This one has been on for six weeks, after I fell down the stairs.
Just a little point about language.
In Trinidad to say “I break meh hand” means anything from the shoulder to the finger tips. Here in Toronto they say “Like, I’ve broken my wrist, ay?”
I cannot here go into even a brief dissertation about Canadian English and the ways in which it varies from coast to coast. A television documentary shown here in Toronto in December 2003 made a start on it by recounting historical influences.
My first experience of Canadian English came with a short gentleman with a military bearing and slicked-back hair. He taught us (I don’t remember what) in Form One at St Mary’s College, Port of Spain. His name was Mr Mickdanald, and every day he came in with his wooden pointer, three or four feet long, to make up for what God hadn’t given him. He used it to indicate what was on the board, and would have put it to other uses too, had he dared. That was the prerogative of the dean.
One day Mr Mickdanald became very angry with an inattentive boy. He waved the pointer menacingly and said loudly, “Fitzpatrick, boy, you know, you make me cheupse.” The class collapsed into laughter for reasons good Mr Mickdanald couldn't have understood.
He lasted a term, or was it a year?
before disappearing altogether.
I’ve tried hard not to lose sleep over the Permanent Resident Card (PRC) we “landed immigrants” must apply for. I was told that, however long a landed immigrant was out of Canada, he could return in 2003 and resume this status.
I got here at the end of December 2003, filled out the PRC application form, and sent it in with a day or two to spare. Then began my wait, through intolerably dark and snowbound days and a frantic search for a job.
I’ve heard the PRC is important,
not for a job, but because if you leave Canada without it, you won’t be
able to get back in. Not by air, anyhow.
The new rules also say--or so I’ve read in the papers--apply only to countries whose citizens have to have a visa to visit Canada. So, a British person who is a Canadian resident doesn’t need a PRC. We Trinidadians do, thanks to our “refugees” of a decade ago. I’ve also heard the PRC has been instituted to clarify and tighten up Canadian immigration law and security, given 9/11 and all that.
Setting aside an hour or so, I have been able twice in four months to talk to anonymous officials on the 1-800 PRC hot line. If you press the correct digits after getting through to the 800 number, you learn from a robotic voice that it takes twelve weeks to process each PRC application. If you are very, very patient, and very lucky (so many people are calling, I suppose) you will eventually connect to a real person who will tell you perfunctorily what the status of your PRC application is.
Into my sixteenth week, I have been told that my application (posted to Nova Scotia, though the live operator’s voice comes from Quebec) is in the hands of my local office, presumably somewhere in Toronto. I expect, then, to be contacted at any moment. I thought this would simply be to tell me where to pick up my PRC. I must have been dreaming. As far as I could make out, the voice said I would be called in for an interview.
Merciful Jesus, Holy Spirit, St Jude, patron of lost causes, come to my assistance now, I implore.
LIFE AS A SECURITY GUARD
Security guards are creatures unto themselves. I know because, after three university degrees, and many years in journalism, I've recently become one. Is this the start of a new career, or just what is called a survival job? Till something better comes along.
Your average Toronto security guard is big, paunchy, short-haired, in his twenties or thirties, and has the overweening impression that the whole world looks up to him or should if it knows what's good for it.
His, or her, thick belt is adorned with jewels of the trade: keys, gloves, radio, and handcuffs, giving a military look. Some even have bullet-proof vests, though they carry no gun.
They have mastered the brief numerical expressions (10-6, 10-20, 10-4, like Broderick Crawford) used in two-way radio conversations, and added other code expressions, including their names: Alpha-5, Cherry-1, X-ray-0, and so on.
They use code words and expressions with cynical enthusiasm, so that they have their own language, their secret communication which gives them power over the unhallowed throng:
"Alpha 5, this is Big Bear, we got a 10-60 on the escalator in Tower 2, come on?" "Big Bear, this is Alpha 5, positive on that, bring suspect down, over?" "Alpha-5, this BB, affirmative on that, 10-4?"
There is an element of bullying play. They want to catch children fishing coins out of the Eaton Centre fountain, to sternly confront suspected shoplifters, or more spectacularly, jump out of trees and threaten trespassers with arrest.
Some of the younger security guards want eventually to join the police force. Being a security guard, they feel, is a good way to get started.
In training, we were taught the rudiments of Ontario's law of trespass, how to make an arrest (a citizen's arrest), what to say and what not to say when giving evidence, emergency procedures, and first aid.
Rules were laid down about being properly groomed for the job: for men, hair not more than one and a half inches long; for women, not below the shoulder.
No earings, at least for men.
Security guards should be clean-shaven or have short, neat beards. No earrings or elaborate studs in the ears, but a simple one like mine was okay, I thought. I know better now.
Pay starts at $9 an hour, with no indication as to whether this increases over time. One career security person I met had moved from standing guard to administration in the security firm and said he earned $50,000 a year.
There are stoics amongst us, often immigrants, from Ghana, Bulgaria, or Honduras, who may be electrical engineers or IT experts, who have been unable as yet to find employment in their field. Or employees may be studying accountancy or business, attending evening courses when they are not on duty.
I call them stoics because you cannot imagine what it is like to do a twelve- hour shift, 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. or 11 p.m. to 11 a.m., alone, in one of 50-storey towers of the Toronto Dominion Centre.
Or to do an overnight fire-watch in a store under construction in the Eaton Centre--a mall into which five or six Trinidad malls would fit. Or a nine-hour shift, standing all the time in one spot, watching for shoplifters.
In one shift, I spent the afternoon and evening in a women's clothing. In another I spent the night alone in a lingerie store.
A few nights ago, I mistakenly pressed the emergency button at the desk where I was on duty, and a small horde of security guards came to my rescue. The others were kept away only by radio messages that it was a false alarm. I was comforted by the knowledge that the emergency call really works.
A fellow security guard warned me the other day: caught once sleeping, warned; caught twice sleeping, warned; caught sleeping three times, warned; caught sleeping four times, home time.
I have usually been able to stay wide awake, sometimes, I confess, with a small dose of Stay-Awake or something similar, disbelieving that seven hours have passed and there are still five hours to go, wondering how I can possibly bear it.
Only once, near the end of twelve hours, I was "pelting cap," finding myself wide awake one moment, then slipping gently into the land of nod, and suddenly coming awake again to slip someone's proffered plastic card key to let them in.
Beginning even a six-hour shift, more so twelve hours, you cannot believe you will ever get through. How I have done so I really don't know. Sometimes, conjuring up an out-of-body experience helps. Or taking along a book or a radio when this is possible.
I have spent nights like this at the Toronto Dominion Centre, occasionally walking about checking the doors, elevators, and escalators, which should be shut off.
There are a few night owls who come
to the office at midnight whose credentials I must check. In the wee hours
the moppers and sweepers arrive.
Just four more hours to go, or six, to compete a twelve-hour shift that started at 9 p.m. or 11 p.m.
The relief of at last signing off is like a brief Christmas and Carnival rolled into one.
(Anthony Milne is a professional
journalist who worked for several years for Trinidad
Express in Trinidad & Tobago, and now resides in Canada where
he is writing an historical novel about his native Trinidad.)