March 7, 2012
For the Attention of:
Councillor Diane McArthur, Ward 8
Office of the Mayor and Council
Kitchener City Hall
200 King Street West
Canada, N2G 4G7
Dear Councillor McArthur,
I am writing to you concerning the construction of the Bauer Lofts behind my family home, from the year 2003 to 2008.
As you know, Councillor, the soiled roots of our sister-cities resisted gentrification by any means at their disposal, and their tactics proved highly effective.
First it was the K-W Lifers who came in with guns blazing - hollering at city council suits that they’d lived there since before WWII when Kitchener was still Berlin and (darn it) if all these ritzy new buildings started popping up, she just wouldn’t be the same city!
Then Secret Societies of Dirt took up the resistance against the building. Asbestos vined its way towards God between steel girders and damp drywall. Mould splatted its spores like Pollock's paints, feeding on blank canvas.
The ghosts of our proletariat past put up a good fight too: the old mattress factory out of which the lofts were to be built spat out a young labourer fourteen stories down – back-breaking on the main drag – all for trying to transform it into luxury lofts for the Young Urban Professional.
Yes. The soiled roots of Kitchener-Waterloo resisted at every step, but progress and economy stepped on also. Still, it took them eight long, expensive years of stumbling through a jungle of red tape to erect that beautiful behemoth.
At twenty-nine, I watched from my bedroom in my parent’s ancient house as the lofts came to dwarf us, and the city I grew up in became foreign to me. The buildings and landmarks of a city anchor us in time, and my anchor was losing its hold. Each trendy new boutique or café that popped up pasted itself over part of my past.
Councillor, I used to be somebody in this town. For instance, I never had to fill out those little slips at the karaoke bar. They knew I would sing “Life Is A Highway” – a Canadian classic – every time.
Now the karaoke bar is a highfalutin jazz club.
I’m not too proud to admit that I tried going back to that club once, but I just kept fumbling with the zipper of my raincoat and then I made the waitress mad at me by asking if they still sold pizza fingers.
I couldn’t get my hood up and slink out of there fast enough. On my millionth walk home down King Street in the rain dropping night I could hear music wafting from the buildings that I passed and I didn’t recognize a single song.
I guess it’s really gone. I guess all that remains of that rocking 1980’s ghost-city of my teenage years (the bowling alley, the ashtrays, M’s clear nail polish, the smell of mattress factory fire, D whistling Hotel California, the Dollar Store, the train tracks) are Memories. Can’t I at least keep these?
But oh, how they evaporate! See them float skyward like cottonseed caught in the wind! See them take flight from us like unsecured helium balloons! And see me – shamelessly – leap! jump! and snatch! them to my body in a desperate dance of recovery.
And as I see D turn his chair toward shadows, see him retreat within to contemplate the corners of his mind, I dance myself into vapor not to resist change, but to stop time.
I stop time too by looking backwards. As part of this backwards-looking project at some point I became obsessed with my own family history.
With a crowbar and might I prised open a trunk in our attic at night and the family secrets – wound tightly for decades in disquietude and dyspepsia - unfurled from it like streamers shot from a novelty party canon.
Those dim and burnished corridors of our descent - unending like an anvil that falls but does not drop –inhabited by geometric faces and cut glass minds! Names encased in crystal, embedded in space and time, revolve slowly and twinkle in the spectral dust of ancestral ghosts.
Crests, Medals, Portraits! Iron, Copper, Lyme! And the letters! These are the proof I’ve needed!
I want everyone to know! He was once that turbine the sun that spins forever! He too is the iron blanket of winter that rusts over time. He is fading to shadow now but I want them to know: D wrote letters and told jokes and collected coins once.
My new genealogy pet project seamlessly replaces my loft-protesting pet project and this forces me to concede that it is not this new set-design of a city that I find so repugnant. And outrage and resistance just take too much energy these days anyway. Just between you and me I was drunk and melancholy at the Residents Association Action Meeting and it kind of soured me on the whole community involvement thing.
I just wish, I just so wish! – against reason, against hope - that this city would always stay the way it was when M & D were young and healthy and so fully alive in it - when D could write books and give lectures and M fairly waltzed.
M made me join a support group for adult children. At first I felt like I didn’t fit in there, but then I came to love this group of middle aged women helping their parents to die. They are beginning to convince me that, in the end, resistance is no match for entropy. Nor are draftsmen, nor money, nor architects, nor mortar. Even your Young Urban Professionals are but soft-headed souls like me, who too will make memories and forget to keep them.
Still, I had to write this letter because it did get pretty lonely living among construction for eight years.
But there was this one day that I saw the sunset squeal through the gaping metal mouths of the new lofts, and I felt the giant crane loom its make-shift cross over the city, and for a minute I felt its arms connect the cracked sidewalks between my present and my past.
I thought you should know.